The face of retirement is changing for a growing number of baby boomers. More and more baby boomers are foregoing the life of leisure, relaxation or idleness of retirement. Instead of slowing down, they are opting to start new careers – this time as entrepreneurs. They view retirement as an opportunity to pursue interests they never had time to do. More than the money, their new businesses offer them a chance to work on something they really want and love to do.
Richard Busch, 63, owner of Glenfiddich Farm Pottery in Leesburg, Virginia, is part of the growing number of lifestyle entrepreneurs who turned to entrepreneurship to support the lifestyle that he loves. After a 30-year career as a highly successful magazine editor, Richard made a 180-degrees turn and quit the job in 1997 at the age of 56 to pursue his passion for pottery.
Profiting from Passion
Richard’s love of pottery started in 1989 when he took pottery lessons at the local community center. He was then working as an editor for the National Geographic Traveler magazine. He described the impact of pottery on him as, “I got hooked right away. Loved making pottery–the whole process. Forming shapes on the wheel, glazing, firing, and seeing the final results. As I got more and more involved I found myself spending 12-15 hours a week in my spare time making stuff.”
When he was in his early 50s, Richard started asking himself what his life would be when the magazine career ends and what it is that he really wants to do in the years to come. Richard described that stage in his life, “The more I thought about it the more I felt like I’d really like to be a potter. Something I could do on my own till they carried me out. And the more I thought about that, the more I felt I wanted to get started as soon as possible; Felt that I’d rather not wait till normal retirement at age 62 or 65 because then it would be more difficult to really make a go of it. Might not have as much energy, etc. So I set a timetable, which had me retire early, in my mid-late 50s. Then, as luck would have it, they offered me an early out, at age 56. That was at the end of 1997.”
As Richard embarked on a new journey as a potter, one of the first things he did was to find a place more suitable for his vocation. From the Northern Virginia suburbs of Vienna where he worked out of a corner of the basement, he moved to the more rural Loudoun County where he can have more space for his equipment and trade.
He bought a 160-year old dairy barn on Catoctin Mountain called Glenfiddich Farm (Celtic for “valley of the deer), and set-up a good size studio with ample space for a showroom. He then built the kiln of his dreams in a shed near the barn. Richard noted the advantages of his location: “Since I’m in a rural area, it’s an attractive place for people to drive out to on weekends. My wife is an avid gardener, so the place looks great in spring and fall. Very beautiful area. But also very accessible by car to people in all directions.”
Glenfiddich Farm Pottery was then born.
The Business of Pottery
Richard creates a wide variety of handcrafted, salt-fired stoneware objects including vases, bottles, bowls, plates and more, drawing inspiration from nature. As Richard explained, “I’ve found that having lots of different types of pottery available to customers is good because it offers lots of options. I enjoy making everything I make, so the decision is partly that and partly what sells. I do like making some things more than others (especially vases of different types). As it happens, vases are what I sell most of.”
Marketing his work proved to be his biggest challenge. He decided early on that he did not want to do the craft fair route, which he explained required “too much travel, too much uncertainty about how successful each fair would be, too much expense traveling, etc.” Instead, he conducted a weekend sale in the farm and saw good turnout numbers. He also advertised in the local papers. His most effective sales tools, however, is his mailing list, which has since grown to about 1,400 customers.
Richard explained his marketing strategy: “I rely mainly on my mailing list for the postcards I sent out (I take the picture for the cards myself in a little still-life photo booth I made) and ads in local papers. Plus I send out press releases (with a picture) to all the local papers announcing each sale, and those usually make it into the announcements/events sections of the papers. I’ve also got a nice permanent display in the window of the local wine store in Leesburg, a lovely 18th-century town. The store is on the most visible corner in town. The owner sells my work (for 40% of the sale price). It’s also a great way to promote the work. I’ve also got some of my wine coolers at two of the local wineries, and that’s also good for sales and promotion.”
He also conducts weekend open houses where people can call up and arrange for a visit throughout the year. As Richard explained, “People are always looking to buy something for a birthday or wedding, and lots of people like the idea of getting something handmade, rather than going to the mall.”
Networking is another important component of his marketing strategy. He joined the local Loudoun Convention and Visitors Association, which displays his brochures in the visitor’s center, puts his postcards on the counter, and lists his business in the association’s web site.
His website www.glenfarmpottery.com has likewise served as an important channel to reach audiences and increase sales.
Indeed, things are shaping up nicely for Richard. Sales have grown steadily since he started five years ago, and hopeful that growth will continue. In 2004, the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce in Virginia gave Glenfiddich Farm Pottery the Product of the Year award noting that he “strives to create both beautiful and functional pottery.”
His advice to other would-be entrepreneurs: “You have to love what you’re doing. Then it’s not really “work” and it’s easy to work really hard. I put in six days and try to reserve Sundays for R&R–to read, loaf, drive in the country, whatever. I also think it’s really important to figure out ways to market your work. I’m lucky because I live in a fast-growing and affluent area (Loudoun county is the fastest growing county in the US), so there’s a large base of potential customers (we’re only about 40 miles from DC and within easy striking distance for people within a radius of 50 miles or so).”