Episode #80 Your Ultimate Guide to Get Found with Local SEO
Episode #68 with Santa Claus
Episode 23 with Gr. 5 & 6 Students from Argyle School
Today’s guest has always been a little on the “artsy” side. Even in her youth, she was involved in art, dance and theater. It wasn’t until she moved to Outlook, Saskatchewan in 1983 that she found her passion.
Playing in the mud! OK, not quite, but playing with clay!
As she will tell you, she doesn’t go to “work” everyday, she goes to “play!” And with 250 vendors across Canada, she does a lot of playing…..
Susan Robertson is the owner, player and chief maker at Susan Robertson Pottery and the Handmade Gallery. 🍵
Tune in to hear how her “retirement project” is going! 🤣
Our guest today has always been considered artsy. In her youth. She was involved in art and dance in theater. But it wasn’t until she moved to Outlook Saskatchewan back in 1983, that she found her passion. One of our guests, you’ve heard me say this before you still love to play in the dirt. But our guest today, she loves to play with clay. Remember that deep, that dark clay that we would play with his kids? Yeah, she actually makes her living off this, but we’re gonna let her tell you a little bit of the story.
So I would like to welcome Susan Robertson to the show today. And Susan, please kick us off by introducing yourself.
Well, I am Susan Robertson, from Susan Robertson Pottery. I have been a ceramic artist for over 35 years now. And I just moved to Broderick, Saskatchewan from Outlook big move a kilometer down the road and built a new studio, which is, as Barb will no doubt laugh through this, my retirement project. And my husband likes to remind me that I’m supposed to be retired. But yeah, I get to play in the mud all day. I don’t work for a living. I am really fortunate I get to play every day at work.
Exactly. You play for a living. So let’s back that up. Because you actually just told us a whole heck of a lot of things. You built this new studio and having been there, that studio is gorgeous. That compares to anything that you might see in a city. Nevermind that I’m going to head out to Broderick to Saskatchewan to see it. So tell us a little bit about the studio. And what inspired that build, especially since this is supposed to be a retirement project.
Well, we had a business in Outlook, as well as my pottery. And it was a small motel, and we lived in the motel as well. And we decided that, you know, we’re both thinking that we should retire. And COVID hittin that kind of went down the road. And then they announced a huge irrigation project. So we thought, well, perfect time to sell. But, of course, when we sold, we lost the motel and the studio space that I have. So we had to build elsewhere. And as my husband says, He knows that I would not be happy without a place to work
And play. A place to play!
Well, yeah. Yeah, laughing down. So we bought two lots side by side and built this space. And, you know, my husband said, build whatever you want. First mistake. I turned around and said, How about if I build what I can afford? And he said, Okay, and so we planned it. But in the planning, I also put it in a retail space. And he’s, you know, kind of shaking his head because, you know, like, Don’t you just want a place to go and play all day? And I guess it’s just not in my nature to sit? Well, it is definitely not my nature to sit still. And I always seem to have to be moving forward. And I think that’s because part of my philosophy is if you’re not growing, you’re dying.
So you know, I added the Well, I had a small retail section, but it was just my pottery, whereas now I have a full blown Canadian handmade craft gift store. Yeah, so that’s, and so that’s why I’m so busy and working so crazy now, because most of what I used to do was wholesale. So I sell my pottery to stores all across Canada, but 250 of them. Okay. So now I’ve added this new dimension. And so now I’m learning all this retail stuff. And you know, and my husband just shakes his head and you go, exactly.
This is supposed to be a retirement project. So I think I met your husband very quickly in passing. But of course, I don’t know him well, and I have to say, I think he’s a very brilliant man who recognized what he needed to do to keep you happy. Because I have a sneaking suspicion if you were bored, you’d probably be driving him crazy.
Well, that’s what I say to him. I said, What do you want me to sit here and look at you all day, like, not happening? I love you dearly but
And that’s why you still love him dearly because you each have your own lives that are probably very full and rich and you get to do lots of things that keep you happy. So that’s a huge thing. Okay, tell me about this Canadian and handmade store that you’re growing. I didn’t even know that. That’s news to me too.
Yeah, well, if it is actually history, I’ve done so many things in my lifetime. I used to have a store in Outlook. And I had a stony little small studio, it was like 900 square feet on the corner of the two major roads. And at the time, it was only one stop where the stop signs were. And it was called A Wrinkle in Time. So I actually have retail experience that it was a Canadian handmade gift store. And when I moved from that location to my larger location, I decided that I didn’t want to spend time in the retail store. I just wanted to focus on the wholesale. Then when I moved back here, the wholesale is well, it’s not without its challenges, but it doesn’t present any new challenges, hey, and I’ve discovered that I need to constantly be doing new things. And I felt that re-inventing the Canadian gift Gift Store. Also, because we’re you know, Broderick is a town of 90, I think we’re up to 92 people now.
A thriving metropolis.
Yeah. So it’s not exactly, you know, conducive to local shopping. So it needed to be a destination store. And while a lot of people love pottery, not everybody loves pottery, but everybody loves, you know, a shot that they can come and find gifts for that are special and unique. So and in the process, I’ve gotten to meet a lot of really great artists as well. So that’s been a lot of fun.
Absolutely. How do you find your artists then?
All kinds of different ways. Some have been through other contacts. So for instance, I had a friend who had a new glass artist, she was formerly a ceramic artist. And she had a mentee that she thought I’d be interested in his work. Well, it turns out, I got her work and his work. Here now. I have gone to the Halifax craft DS Expo. And through it, I’ve met a lot of maritime artists, and they have some really interesting art.
Yeah, so one, one through their website that I found that she has these amazing cards, and I decided that I was going to buy them and then I read her story. And she is a disabled person who has Down syndrome. Like I was impressed with these before it was just oh my god like exams. I actually now I’m jealous, because, you know, here she’s producing this amazing work and, and of course, she has some help from her family and things but still like oh my god. So you know, other stores that I deal with I actually mentored by a woman out of nowhere, she is in Nova Scotia and she is a retail specialist. Okay. So she connects us with other retailers. And so as well as guiding a lot on how to run a retail store. It’s also how to source products and, and they said it in exchange.
Okay, let’s jump back to clay. Let’s just jump back there for a second. So how in the heck did you actually get into pottery?
Well, actually, I moved from Ottawa. I’m a city girl. I grew up in a city in Ontario 40,000 people and moved from there to Ottawa, and then moved from Ottawa to Outlook. And when I moved here, I left my family, my friends, and my job. And I had a 17 day old baby. Oh my god. Yeah.
Needless to say, I got cabin fever. And my husband said you have to get out of the house, you need to go do something. And he saw an advertisement in the paper. We used to have a pottery studio in the community. Go take pottery classes, you’ll love it. So I took my first class and absolutely fell in love with it. And I actually remember one of the other women who was a longtime ceramic artist, looking at me and going, you look like a potter. I thought I don’t know what Potter’s are supposed to look like, but apparently I do. Exactly. So that started me off. And then years later, our little motel was suffering through the 80s which everybody was Yeah,
Yeah, and I needed to go get a job. So I did. And I worked for the Saskatchewan Craft Council as their marketing coordinator. And through that I got exposed to some of the most amazing work like, Oh, our would know. Yeah. The province has some of the most amazing artists and a lot of them are world renowned. We just don’t tell anybody about them. It’s terrible. Anyway, back to the story. So I worked for the Craft Council for quite a few years. And through it, through that exposure, it really motivated me to go and get some education. And so I took an applied Fine Arts diploma through SIAST, which used to have a ceramics program, and graduated in 1995. So I actually have a piece of paper to hang on my wall. Maybe I should find it. Because I’d always every now and then I go, Oh, yeah, I do have a degree or diploma.
And then, you know, meantime, we’re still working. And then I did the traditional, you know, go to craft sales, flogged my wares. And I had at that time, I had three young children. And there was one time I was gone for like nine weeks, I was on the road. And I came home. My kids didn’t know me, they were scared of me. And yeah, it was I said, that was not the life. I want it for myself or my family. Yeah. And that’s when I decided to pursue wholesale, which is not something a lot of artists and artisans have done. Because for a whole lot of different reasons. We could do a whole podcast on
Wholesale and retail. Yeah, absolutely.
So after that, I, you know, still did the occasional shows, but, you know, mostly wholesale, and then in the last probably five years, I don’t do any retail shows at all, I just do wholesale shows. So that’s where I am now.
Yeah. So let’s talk about that. Why are we such a well kept secret? Why do we work so hard to not tell anyone? What do you think it is?
Well, I don’t think necessarily, that it’s that we don’t tell anyone, I think that it’s really hard when like a lot of people are, they’re selling everything that they produce. So they didn’t have a need to go beyond their community beyond our borders, got it. The ones that have become internationally well known are generally ones who have gone the path of what we term one of a kind.
So rather than producing multiples of things, they produce a single vessel or object. And quite often, they are very expensive, and we don’t have those markets here in Saskatchewan. So then those people have to go outside of the province, they have to find other venues. And so they go national and then International, because that’s where the markets are.
When you’re producing by yourself. It’s you know, and I should, you know, state that I do have employees now, because there’s just no way I can do it all on my own. And for a lot of people, they’re just happy. They just want to make pots. And I guess that’s, you know, talking about Potter’s, but I think maybe that’s the flip side of it that most artists come from an artistic bent, and they don’t have a business background or business thing. Yeah. And that is a big stumbling block for a lot of them because they just want to stay in their studios and make things. Yes, exactly. Yeah. And I’m the other well, I shouldn’t say and the other way around, like I have this creative half, then I have this business and have, you know, grew up in a family and business. And so, you know, it’s almost ingrained in you and
So well, if you’ve 250 retailers across Canada, how did you build that network network? How are they finding you? And how the heck do you get ceramics from small town Saskatchewan out to some of these retail locations? Because how does that stuff not break?
And over the years, we’ve learned to pack very, very well yeah, I bet. yeah, the building the network it it actually all started because I was at a craft show in Ottawa. And this little woman went sailing by me. And next thing I know she marches right back to me and she puts her finger under my nose and cheek. I want to represent you. Oh, okay. Okay. And we have had over a 20 year relationship.
And, you know, it was just, I mean, I had been starting to do wholesale, but because of her name is Ryan Moffat and her company’s anything is possible. And she only represents Canadian artists. Okay. So, you know, she started taking me to the wholesale shows I had been going to some of the wholesale shows. That’s sort of where you start. And then, you know, you build a reputation for quality and good products.
And most, a lot of my stores have been buying for me for years and years. And, I mean, part of that is possible, because I’m constantly creating new designs, and I do custom work. So they might have something they specifically want, let’s say, a lighthouse in Nova Scotia, and they want me to reproduce their lighthouse. So I will reproduce, you know, whatever icon they want.
The imagery is very changeable. And in fact, my collection is very eclectic, because I have whales, and like, we’re a landlocked province here. We don’t have whales, we don’t have, you know, oceans. And so people are always surprised to find whales here. And it’s so well, it’s because in BC and the Maritimes they want whales, so I make whales.
exactly, that’s one of the things that I really like about your work is the variety of patterns, and then you can get everything to match. I’m one of those people who I like things to match. And you’d never know it by looking in my cupboards because it does seem like a completely eclectic set. But you know, having that special mug that matches, you know, the cheese platter, right, all these pieces, like there’s just something about that, and I don’t even know what it is, but it satisfies that. I don’t know that very square side, I suppose for my creative side something anyway.
Well, there’s a lot to be said for, you know, enriching your life with objects. And you know that that sounds weird, because I mean, really, let’s be honest, you can go to the dollar store. ceramic mug for $1. But it’s a mug. Yeah. Mine is a moment. It’s enjoyable. It’s warm, fuzzy. Yes,
It’s personal. When I select something from, from your patterns, like there’s, there’s something so personal about it. And it makes me want to put my coffee in it each day. Right? And so yeah, I totally, totally get it.
Well, we sort of our branding or logo or whatever you want to call it or, you know, we make people smile. That’s what we’re about. Like, nothing gives me more pleasure than when people come into the store. And they’re looking at my work and oh, look at this. And oh, you know, remember when we went on that trip? Doesn’t that remind you of that? And or, you know, they’re looking for a gift? Oh, my God, you know, and June will love this because she’s a bird person. Yeah.
So do you design the patterns as well? Or does someone else help you with that part of it? Or where did the patterns come from?
Well, they come from a lot of different places. Inspiration was really funny, I was just thinking about the very first, or one of the very first patterns I created was birch trees. And it was because I was at my sister’s house, and she’s a very accomplished artist as well. And she had done this painting of her backyard, which was all birch trees. And I just fell in love with the painting and I gushed over it and thought that I gave her enough hints that she should give it to me. And she did.
So I went home and I created a birch vase, which I then sent to her. And many years later, I’m at a show and I didn’t know I’m telling somebody this story and she’s standing behind me and she looks at me she goes, Well, why didn’t you just ask for the paint so that was you know, sort of the beginnings of it. But
S Susan, what do you think is next for you?
Well, actually, right, I got so many irons in the fire. It’s not even funny. And again, you know I’m supposed to be retired but the thing is River and Rail ArtVenture which you’re familiar with.
I’m very familiar with it.
Yeah, yeah, I have to give a shout out to Above The Fold, because they are the companies that we’ve worked with to develop this self driving art venture tour of Southwest central Saskatchewan. Fabulous June 25th & 26th. Here I go with my shameless self promotion.
Yes please. Yes, when it is, where it does and how many artists we have this year.
Yeah, it’s nine communities with over 60 artists, 30 venues.
And in west central Saskatchewan, so from Outlook down to do Tugaske. And you hop in your car with your friends, pack a lunch, or stop for lunch, stay overnight, and just go and see artists in their studio.
So people went on last year and had a really good time, and we’re expecting this year to be even better, bigger and better. Because even for myself, I wasn’t able to have people in my studio, partially because of COVID. And partially because we just moved in. So this year, I’ll be able to do studios, tours and demonstrations. And so give people a chance to understand more about what it is we do as artists and gain a greater appreciation for the work.
So then once that’s done, the next big project is Economusee. And this kind of ties into you know, the whole concept of artists not being known. And the Economusee is a project that started in Quebec, and their whole thing is to promote artists and artisans. Being able to live and work in their studios without having to travel outside to make a living, that people will come to them. So basically a type of eco tourism, you know, and the launch for my Eco tourism will be in September this year.
Ah, very cool. Where do people find you? How can they get to your studio and where might we find you on social media?
Okay, I’m located at one Kiley place. Broderick, Saskatchewan which is an hour south west of Saskatoon. Actually, I’m not quite an hour from now. Okay, it’s about 15 minutes and I am eight kilometers east of Outlook, major highways easy to get to and I’m right behind the potato barns which you might go. What’s that? So another reason to come here and find out.
And online I have shop.srobertsonpottery.com. And social media. It’s facebook.com Susan Robertson pottery instagram.com Susan Robertson pottery, and I try to be consistent. Yep. And on YouTube, Google, Google me. But I have to say you get a tour of the studio. But that’s the old studio. I haven’t done the new video.
And a new tour yet. All right. Awesome.
That is fantastic. Susan, let me wrap us up. And thank you.
Thank you so much for being here with me today. You know, it’s funny, you and I have talked, of course, dozens of times. But we’ve never really had the opportunity to talk about your business because we always have a full agenda when we are meeting so thank you for coming and sharing your story and telling us you know a few of your secrets and how how you’ve been able to be successful, as you say especially because that’s not what you were looking for with your family when you had three small children. So kudos to you.
Well, thanks for having me. I appreciate the opportunity to talk about myself.
If you’d like to be a guest on the show, you can email me at Barb@abovethefold.live or reach out on our Facebook and Instagram pages at abovethefold.ca. And just a reminder, you can even submit questions in advance of our shows.
I’m your host Barb McGrath, local business owner and Google girl remember you were too hard for your success. Don’t keep it a secret. Bye for now.