We had the good fortune of connecting with Sara Pilchman and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sara, what role has risk played in your life or career?
Every major step I’ve taken in my life and business have come with fear and risk. Transferring to art school at 15, moving to Pennsylvania for college having never lived outside of California, starting Sara Pilchman Ceramics with absolutely no knowledge of how to run a business, and attending my first trade show last year when I knew I wasn’t ready. Honestly, so many of these things still make me l feel like an idiot for admitting to but in reality doing things and taking risks I wasn’t ready for meant I no longer had a choice but to succeed. It was the push of taking risks that I was forced to learn independence, how to run a business, and how to hold my own in a room of people who were more experienced than me. The successes I’ve won by taking risks hasn’t made me less fearful, but it has made has made me more of an adrenaline junkie. I want to be clear: the risks I’ve been able to take have little to do with me but with the privilege I have. Because of the family I was born into and the people I’ve met throughout my life that have opened doorways I’ve had the ability to take risks and can acknowledge the safety nets I’ve had. I hope that as my successes grow I will be able to give others the opportunity to take risks in their businesses as well.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
Sara Pilchman Ceramics is a pottery company started in Long Beach in 2016 but my love of ceramics began when I was a kid. After graduating from Juniata College studying ceramics with a degree in Museum Studies and Visual Storytelling I wasn’t sure how I was going to make a living but didn’t imagine pottery was going to be the way. Still, the first thing I did when I came back home to Long Beach in 2012 was join a studio. It helped me gain a community, which lead me to artist assistant gigs, which led me learning how to grow as an artist and begin my own business. When SPC began I was also working as a contracted art installer for the City of LA and was managing Angels Gate Cultural Center’s gallery. The side business was almost incidental; I sold at fairs and started an Etsy. Things seemed to be growing…why not make it official? I started SPC making entirely dishware and barware, selling at a local shop and to a Long Beach bar. I began making miniature versions of the bottles I was creating as pendants and played with the idea of “bike planters.” These pieces were a major turning point in my business. I realized that every time a person would walk into my booth they were there because they wanted to support and buy, but often price was an issue. TinyPots are inexpensive, one of a kind, good quality art that was both multi-functional and lovingly made. The more I shifted focus onto TinyPots, the better they sold and the more SPC became my primary income. Eventually I dropped heavily producing most other products and (for now) wholesale only TinyPots to other retailers. July 2019 I did a wholesale trade show at the Las Vegas Market with ArtisanalLA. It was my first major show and I was as excited as I was unprepared. It was a huge leap of faith to go into it not knowing what to expect other than maybe a shop or two would buy and a few others might be interested. Instead, 30 minutes into the market I got my first retailer and after a whirlwind weekend I had nineteen new shops and four more pages of contacts for interested parties including an East Coast representative. While SPC had existed for four years, I consider this the real start of my business. Running this business has felt both incredibly natural and constantly overwhelming. Pottery has been part of my life since as early as I can remember but owning a business was nothing I ever desired. Learning the licensing, putting together contracts, and all the other logistical work is certainly out of my comfort zone especially when all I want to do is get on my wheel and play in the mud. While I now have over 60 retailers, thousands of customers, and am running SPC day and night, I still have moments of insecurity about my business acumen. What has helped me through is speaking to advisors and fellow small business owners. Its a reminder that I can continue to succeed even while feeling fear and uncertainty…and in fact overcoming those fears is one of the most rewarding parts of owning a business.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Well, we’re going out of the city since I’m a Long Beach girl born and raised! We’re also pretending we’re not in quarantine and 20% of cultural spaces aren’t going to close and the world is still good. Let’s say they’re flying into LAX. First thing I would say is check out the artwork in the airport! LAX has an incredible art collection run by the Department of Cultural Affairs and has often overlooked spread of curated shows (I should know, I used to install the art!) Flyers might be too distracted to notice most of the time, but the arts program is regarded as one of the best in the country. I’m a big museum nerd so we’d have to make our way to at least a few. LACMA is a must on a weekday mid-morning but I’ve decided to avoid the Broad. If I see one more selfie in front of a Barbara Kruger I might scream. Other benefits of LACMA is you’re right next to the tar pits and as far as I’m concerned if you haven’t poked at the tar with a random stick you’ve never really been to LA. CAFAM and other spots on Miracle Mile great too if you haven’t hit museum fatigue yet. Best and most underrated gallery is the Underground Museum opened by brothers Noah Davis and Kahlil Joseph. Its small and a little out of the way but incredibly worth it. Lately the museum I go to more than any other is Huntington Library and Gardens. The dual membership is also the perfect birthday gift to get for your mom in case you might just want to get a membership for yourself. I like the art galleries but as a devoted swamp monster and museum educator I love the bog and interactive tools in the greenhouse. I could also die happy in the Chinese or Japanese gardens. Yes I would make my friend spend the entire day walking the grounds and treat them by taking them to the tea room and pretending to be fancy. Let’s get to the hometown: back to Long Beach. For those who still look down on LBC in comparison to LA–Good. Great. Stay where you are because Long Beach is full and tbh you don’t deserve us. For those that ARE willing to experience the joys of LB its not a one stop kind of place, its a three day immersive experience done best through bar crawls. What kind of people you want to meet? 2nd street where you get your CSULB bros? 4th for your broke hipsters? Pine for girls in freakum dresses? Broadway for the gayborhood? Bixby Knolls for drunk parents? Promenade for the less broke hipsters? Its all a mess and its all great. Here’s my Long Beach weekend: Start at Retro Row, grab a coffee at Portfolio and walk down through Songbird and Meow. Debate if you’re cool enough for roller skates at Moxie, then get lunch at Lola’s which has somehow unofficially become the first stop of visiting relatives (its the green sauce). Go back to the shops you missed and get your music fix on at 4th Street Vine. Hit the Social List across the street for a solid cocktail and you’re on your way. Now here’s where we get to the choose your own adventure: you’ve got your hardcore crawlers who will walk towards downtown hitting your dives, those who will start to walk then get trapped at Pike for the music and people, and those who go straight for the Uber towards your classy cocktails. Group 1: Ashley’s, Ferns, Red Room, Stache (get the sours), and V Room which is where you’ll land. Group 2: You’re at Pike, get some fried snacks and be extra nice to your bartender because she’s seen it all. Group 3 (my group): get in that alleyway behind Elinor and play a round of pool with Rachel (she will take your money), then Stave for a sidecar, and Ordinarie. How well are you holding your liquor? Want to keep drinking but stay social and snack a little? Congregation for a beer and the best sweet potato fries. Ready for a real meal? Beachwood for a beer and some pulled pork. Ready to be overwhelmed with metal/horror/the best pizza ever? 4th Horseman because their Buffalo Bill will change your life. Even better Dark Art Emporium is through a secret entrance behind 4th and has the best art in Long Beach. If you’re the type to not play around, close out your night across town at Bamboo Club and get some shwarma at the Nile across the street at 4am. No matter your choices you’re going to have an incredible night, which must be followed up by a brunch at either Breakfast Bar (for your savories) or Starling Diner (for your sweets). Grab a coffee at your nearest local shop and go to the beach at your own risk…just don’t go into the water. I’d be remiss not to include some amazing gift stores including Made by Millworks which contains all local artists and artisans, ReCircle Home for your crystals and airplants, Blue Windows on 2nd Street, and Better Half Boutique in Bixby Knolls–all four of which happen to carry Sara Pilchman Ceramics products!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Family and friends come first, of course. I became a ceramicist with the support of my parents which is unexpected if not remarkable. I started on the pottery wheel at 5 years old and they have encouraged me ever since. Immediately after is Angels Gate Cultural Center, the art space I’ve been working for since 2012. Amy Eriksen, our Executive Director, and Colleen Andrews, our Education Director, not only do amazing work bringing art to San Pedro and hundreds of LAUSD schoolkids, but have supported me in so many ways in my business. From encouraging my professional growth (even when that means focusing less on my AGCC gallery work), to helping me with graphic design, to emotional support when things get overwhelming. At my first trade show last year at the Las Vegas Market (shoutout to Shawna Dawson and ArtisanalLA), my boss, coworker, and photographer/best friend Gigi Greene took time off of their day jobs to help me at my most panicked, and I can’t thank them enough for helping me through. What has brought me the successes I’ve had more than anything is of course my customers and retailers. I would be doing ceramics for the rest of my life whether or not I sold one more pot but the fact that thousands of people around the country are buying, sharing, and loving my work still blows my mind. I’m so, so grateful and encouraged by their support of my art.
Gigi Greene, Jonathan Lefrancois