Mastering Growth: Insider Strategies from a 7-Figure Ceramics Brand on Scaling Your Maker Business

Renowned ceramist Jono Pandolfi, based in New York, is the preferred choice for numerous esteemed establishments, ranging from eateries at MOMA and the Four Seasons Hotel to numerous Michelin Star restaurants.

In collaboration with his brother Nick, they oversee the prosperous seven-figure enterprise, Jono Pandolfi Designs, which employs over 20 artists. Despite Jono’s focus on solidifying his presence in the hospitality industry, Nick plays a pivotal role in expanding and scaling the business, all the while upholding rigorous standards for handmade ceramics.

In the forthcoming discussion, the pair will impart their insights gained from assisting fellow artisans aiming to elevate and expand their own enterprises.

Navigating the intricacies of unit economics poses a challenge for many makers, particularly in crafting handmade products. The key question often centers around creating pieces that resonate with customers while ensuring they can be sold at a targeted price. Jono’s approach revolves around actively seeking and incorporating feedback from customers in the development of each piece and determining its price.

Jono reflects on this process, stating, “Our reputation began to naturally circulate within the hospitality community because we not only offered distinctive products but also maintained a price point that chefs found accessible.

Jono collaborates directly with chefs to gain insight into their budget constraints. Subsequently, he strategically sources materials in reverse, aligning with their financial parameters.

“When working with chefs, I gained valuable insights and knowledge,” says Jono. “We continue to welcome chefs and clients to our studio whenever possible.”

Harnessing Industry Influencers

As chefs increasingly turned to Jono for their tableware needs, restaurants naturally evolved into a primary marketing channel.

“We are fundamentally a hospitality-centric company; it constitutes the majority of our business and serves as our origin story,” explains Nick. “This has led to remarkable relationships with chefs, providing excellent content opportunities. Our plates showcase incredible photos of delectable dishes, creating a visually appealing narrative.”

Beyond merely featuring their culinary creations on Jono Pandolfi Designs tableware, chefs actively collaborate with the brand on exclusive, limited edition collections.

We executed a remarkable launch in collaboration with the esteemed chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten during the opening of Tin Building. We curated a set of pieces directly inspired by those used in his restaurant, making them available for direct consumer purchase. The images captured by chefs and our collaborations on limited edition collections contribute to the narrative of Jono Pandolfi Designs. It is these stories that distinguish the company from other ceramics brands.

Nick expresses, “When patrons like yourself flip over a plate in a restaurant, finding it on our Instagram or website, they can swiftly discern what sets us apart from a conventional dinnerware manufacturer.”

Creating an Optimal Work Environment for Artists

As Jono Pandolfi Designs underwent expansion, Jono and Nick found the need to enlarge their team and recruit artists to meet the rising demand. Ensuring that the work environment caters to the needs of artists becomes a paramount concern. Jono remarks, “I consider it my primary responsibility now to stay closely connected with my team and prioritize their experience. This, I believe, is the key to the continued growth of my company.

One of the helpful exercises that Jono and Nick went through to envision the kind of work place they wanted to create was to establish a set of core values for the team. “Our first core value is ‘Build from scratch.’ That one’s the most important to me, because the company’s built from scratch,” shares Jono. 

In addition to being one of the rare workplaces in the greater New York area that offer artists paid time off, health insurance, and a 401(k), Jono Pandolfi Designs’ studio is also a place for artists to hone their craft. After production hours, artists can use the studio and supplies for their own projects. 

Adapting the business for DTC customers 

Like many businesses linked with the hospitality industry, Jono Pandolfi Designs had to adapt and expand its online business during the COVID-19 pandemic, overhauling every aspect of the operations to reach customers directly. 

One of the biggest challenges for the brand during this time was shipping and logistics. “How do we go from shipping pallets of 500 dinner plates to one restaurant to 250 individual boxes of two dinner plates to 250 different customers?” Nick says. “We had to overhaul all of our packaging and really be thoughtful about how we ship out dinnerware, which isn’t easy. But we were really cost conscious, because we wanted to be able to sort of keep our price point as accessible as we could.

Another significant challenge involved expanding the team’s customer service.

“We had to establish clear policies and implement a customer service ticketing system to efficiently manage all aspects of operations,” notes Nick.

With the substantial growth of its online business, Jono Pandolfi Designs experienced a significant overall business expansion, with revenue from its direct-to-consumer channel now surpassing that from restaurant sales.

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