If you watch everyone work, you will see precise activities performed repetitiously. If you listen to them work, you will hear distinct personalities. Watching such a diverse group work so well together makes me wonder, which is doing the shaping, the workers or the clay.
Since 1976, I have had four different groups of employees. Relocation has been the main reason for changes. If you took one worker, and put them in a different group, they would feel at home.
The first group was in Eighty Four, Pennsylvania. This twelve year stretch started with my brother, Randy; Gail our stamp designer, and Mary a decorator. The techniques established then are still used today. After the initial four came Charlotte, Ellen, and several others along the way. We never made much money, but we loved working together. I learned, back then, that keeping things casual was the best way to run a business. These were the people who showed me how. The layout was less than ideal, but it was great fun. Even my landlord Darrell and his son Brian helped too. I still enjoy friendships with most of them today.
The second group was a short twenty month stretch in Pennsylvania’s beautiful Amish country. I will always remember getting away from work by driving backroads through the Amish farmlands. The shortness of my stay did not allow me to develop the same kind of working relationships I previously enjoyed. But I did make great friends, like Shu Ping and his wonderful family.
The third group was the first two years in our current location. While I was in Lancaster County, I started selling pots to the Leggett Department Stores. After discussing the state of things with my brother Randy, I moved back to Pittsburgh. Randy found a great building on Pittsburgh’s South Side. Setting up a new studio is a lot of work, especially when you design and build a new kiln. Along with Randy were Judy from Germany, and later Mark.
Judy was our next door neighbor. One day, after months of short hellos, I invited Judy and her friends to visit the pottery. Within minutes I offered her a job. While Judy worked for me, we never stopped laughing. When she decided to move back to Germany, she knew the strain it would have on me and found her own replacement; Mark a potter. Judy was one of the best workers, and more enjoyable people I’ve ever employed. We still miss her today, and look forward to seeing her and meeting her new husband at Octoberfest.
Mark had a tough role to fill. He did so, quite exceptionally. He not only learned Judy’s duties fast; he glazed and threw too. Just like me, he learned to love pottery as an Art major in college.
About two years after I moved back to Pittsburgh, Randy returned to real estate. Twice he helped me get things moving. He is the quintessential big brother. Sure we bump heads, but I wouldn’t have him any other way.
Following Randy’s departure, I set up ZTP Inc., and initiated a five year plan to shift from the town commemorative to personalized pieces. Sales at the Leggett stores were up, and I needed help fast. Mark was encouraging me to hire production workers, but I knew I needed a manager first. It’s better to bring new employees to an existing manager, than a new manager to existing employees.
The fourth group started when I hired Jocelyn. I knew her through Judy. I bumped into her one evening, and told her about all the changes in progress. Her questions addressed each issue on my priority list. As I started to leave I asked her if she would like to work for me. After a few meetings, she agreed. I didn’t realize she was an editor for an entrepreneurial publication. Her interest was in start up businesses. This was her opportunity to practice what she preached. I explained the production, and sales systems, and told her to set up the office the way she thought best. Within a few months, the office was revamped, new production workers were trained, and the personalized line was picked up by our first mail order catalog. Everything fell into place nicely. This stretch was hectic, but great fun too.