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Feature on Sara Bonnyman Pottery

Friday, April 10, 2015

Nova Scotia Business Inc. along with its partners and sponsors presented The Nova Scotia Export Achievement Awards, an annual celebration and recognition of excellence in exporting across Nova Scotia. Sara Bonnyman was one of nine businesses that were celebrated at the 2015 provincial EAA awards ceremony on May 21, 2015 in Halifax.

Sara Bonnyman Pottery creates handmade stoneware pottery and hooked rugs in Tatamagouche. Established in 1974, the company has carved out an export niche for its Moss Scuttle, designed for wet shavers to keep their lathered-up brush warm throughout the shave. NSBI spoke to Sara Bonnyman to learn about her start in business, her current success, and her future plans.

Q: Can you share your company’s history in Nova Scotia?

A: I learned how to make pottery as a teenager. After graduating from Carleton University and returning to Tatamagouche, I made pots for my own amusement, and customers started coming. A near-fire from the kiln during a power outage at our family home prompted me to build a proper studio on Maple Avenue, where I’ve been for 38 years. As I taught myself, the business grew, and now I use about three tons of clay every year. About eight years ago, a local doctor, Chris Moss, designed a “scuttle,” essentially a double boiler in clay to keep your lathered-up brush warm when you’re shaving. He posted a picture of the scuttle I’d made for him to an online shaving forum, and he told me, “I have 800 friends.” Lo and behold, they all came forward. I export these Moss Scuttles to a niche market of wet shavers around the world, from Moscow to Afghanistan to Japan.

Q: What does being recognized by your local business community mean to your business and your employees?

A: It’s absolutely huge, because it has increased interest in what I do. Media coverage of the award enhanced that recognition.

Q: What factors have contributed to your success?

A: Having high-speed Internet and a great rural post office. Seeking advice for marketing. Certainly, getting endorsements for the Moss Scuttle has put me over the top. And a well-designed website, with search optimization, is essential. Providing personal service, too – I respond to emails within 24 hours.

Q: What do you consider will be key to your success going forward?

A: Staying aware of opportunities and being open to suggestions. Initially I took part in craft markets, but they weren’t attracting the kind of customer I wanted, so I switched my emphasis to the website and worked hard to make it appealing. Now people come to me. In the Moss Scuttle part of my business, men call and say, “How about you make this?”
I can turn around an idea for a new lather bowl in about four weeks, and some people are over the moon at receiving their idea in the mail. I’m looking to expand the line of products that appeal to men and to explore corporate gift opportunities.

Q:  What was your biggest learning or a-ha moment?

A: This is an incredibly physical job. My biggest a-ha moment was turning 50 and thinking, “Life isn’t going to go on forever; you’d better start doing the best you can.” I started really focusing on the business and on marketing my work.

Q:  What’s the best piece of advice you would give to new exporters, or companies considering exporting from Nova Scotia?

A: Give your customer a reason to buy from you. Have a story to go with it – and pump up the fact that it’s coming from Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia has its own lore; play with that, and go far.

Q: And finally, what’s the best thing about being a Nova Scotia exporter?

A: Having a successful business in rural Nova Scotia means I’m bringing in new dollars to the Nova Scotia economy. I’m also educating my customers on where Nova Scotia is. It’s an incredible experience to be self-supporting in rural Nova Scotia, and it’s nice to prove it can work.

Sara Bonnyman Pottery is a member of the Nova Scotia Designer Crafts Council (NSDCC) and the Nova Scotia Potter’s Guild. In 2014, the company was awarded the Truro and Colchester Chamber of Commerce Export Achievement Award. Its peak season is July–August, when the shop is open 10am–4pm Monday to Saturday. It is open at other times by appointment (902-657-3215).

If you are interested in becoming an exporter, the following resources can get you started:

The Small Business Development Program helps eligible businesses participate in a global supply chain, become first-time exporters, remove barriers to exporting, or increase exports by getting customized expertise.

The Export Growth Program helps eligible businesses with projects to overcome export-growth barriers, such as travel to market and helping with costs for events such as trade shows and conferences.

Stay up-to-date with our e-newsletter that includes upcoming trade development initiatives that you can participate in and highlights trade activity in Nova Scotia and beyond.