This week on the Post Some Love podcast, Steve Strauss interviews Mary Loveless of Glaze Fire, a paint-your-own pottery studio bringing creativity to Los Feliz. Listen to her story and the importance of positive online reviews.
Post Some Love: Glaze Fire Podcast Transcript
Steve Strauss: When you get a review that is less than stellar, does it make you contact the person?
Mary Loveless: I’ve only gotten three.
Steve Strauss: You've only gotten three. Well that says a lot about you.
Mary Loveless: And I can like recite verbatim all of them to you probably right now.
Steve Strauss: So, obviously, your reviews are important to your business.
Mary Loveless: Of course.
Steve Strauss: Hi, I'm Steve Strauss, U.S.A. Today's senior small business columnist and author of the Small Business Bible and you're listening to the “Post Some Love” series on the Bank of America's small business podcast. This is the series where we speak with small business owners about their journey and share some of their great customer reviews. I am delighted to welcome to the show Mary Loveless, co-owner of Glaze Fire to the “Post Some Love” series. Glaze Fire is a paint-your-own pottery studio created by cousins Mary and Sara Loveless. Now nearing its third year in business, Glaze Fire is infusing creativity and individuality into their Los Feliz community in Los Angeles. They play host to countless birthday parties, baby showers, girls’ night out, that kind of thing, but also to families and first dates and celebrities as well as, these days, a younger crowd looking for a creative release. This is an artistic boutique and, as evidenced by their online reviews, which we will get to and share some today, the studio and the business seems to be as hot as their kiln. So, Mary welcome to the show. Great to have you.
Mary Loveless: Thank you. Thank you so much.
Steve Strauss: So, why don't we started beginning? How did you get started? How did you decide to start this business and what's your background such that, you know, this is what you wanted to do?
Mary Loveless: I went to art school. So, business kind of is not part of the curriculum. I did take one course called entrepreneurship and I, at the time, was like, this won't apply to me. I won’t need this.
Steve Strauss: Famous last words, right?
Mary Loveless: Exactly. So, like most Los Angeles people, I kind of did a little of this, a little of that all in an artistic kind of realm, you know, drawing menus on chalkboards fancy restaurants calligraphy on invitations, just random things, art instruction for children was a big part of that and, just over time, got tired of hustling and hoping I sold a painting every month and, instead, needed something a little more steady. So, as far as small businesses go, this one is at least still in my pocket. We're still doing art, yeah.
Steve Strauss: Do you have an entrepreneurial background at all? Does it run in the family? Did your parents do it or not?
Mary Loveless: Yes, in college too, I mean, my first kind of money making schemes were art instruction for kids’ camps and, you know, kind of babysitting on the next level and I did that in college and would support my work-study with that kind of work and my dad left his lucrative, steady job and started his own firm, which was a risk, when we were young and I remember it being like a ‘hope it works’ kind of thing but, yeah, I guess nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Steve Strauss: Mary, I'm wondering if you could tell us about how you teamed up with your cousin and what each of you brings to the partnership and to the business.
Mary Loveless: So, Sara was kind of a Hail Mary pass for me. My original business partner in this enterprise chickened out once it looked like it was all going to happen and left me in Limbo and I called Sara and was like, hey, this is really crazy but, if you're not doing anything, want to move to Los Angeles and start a business, and she was like, I'll be there in three weeks. So, and then she came in like slept on my couch for six months and we figured this out.
Steve Strauss: So, you're the artist. You have an art background.
Mary Loveless: Exactly.
Steve Strauss: What is Sara’s background?
Mary Loveless: She is like a professional organizer, actually and literally, I mean like literally. She also has a closet organizing business called The Tidy Project and she helps people with like severe hoarding issues also. So she's a very, not only can she organize your things, she can help you organize your thoughts. She's a very level-headed, rational, very well-thought-through, whereas I make a snap decision and I'm not rethinking it. It's done and so that was one of the perks of being from the large Loveless family home that you can call people you trust and they'll show up.
Steve Strauss: Well, and that's fantastic. One thing I know about a great business and a great partnership is: each part of the team fills in the gaps of the other and it turned out, in your case, as you said, serendipitous that you have one person that has the art background, one person who has the organizing background. I’m sure she can do some of the art and you can do some of the organizing but, to have different people who can do different things and bring it, makes the whole a whole lot stronger, I think.
Mary Loveless: Yeah, we're both each the firstborn of our families and our dads are Irish twins in birth order and also in looks and kind of personalities. So we're very similar. I mean, she got to L.A. and we were driving I was like, okay, I'm going to drive you over to Vermont and Hillhurst and we’re just going to walk up and down. Our store has to be somewhere on these two streets and she was driving us over and she got in the right lane right when it was allowed for extra non-traffic and she started zipping through L.A. and I was like, yes, this is going to work. Like, she's just like me. She’s type A. I don't even have to, it's just how we were raised and that compatibility can't have been taught except for that we were raised together, essentially.
Steve Strauss: Oh, that’s fantastic. So what brought you to what obviously is the pottery studio and working with your cousin? How did you actually come up with this idea and then place it where you placed it in Los Feliz?
Mary Loveless: The Los Feliz location is a basic business school exercise. We drew a five mile radius map around all of our competition and Los Feliz was the only big hole in Los Angeles.
Steve Strauss: Very smart, uh-huh.
Mary Loveless: So that kind of sorted itself out. It didn't hurt that it happens to be in a really hip, fun location. The community respects and wants to support independent mom and pops. So that was just serendipitous. That was more just like a math chart. I mean, even in my business plan, when I was trying to get financing, that was like a big color printout with all the circles. So that was its own thing but, once figuring that out, it then took six or seven months of walking the streets every day before we found our actual brick and mortar location.
Steve Strauss: And what was it about a pottery studio that made you, you know, there's all sorts of things people can do with their art and that's kind of a unique and different one?
Mary Loveless: Well, this one is just facilitating other people to create art. We do sell custom paintings and you can commission us to make something personalized for a gift but, mostly, it's people who are painting their own projects. So, in that sense, it's more just, you know, people have more of a connection to something that they made, obviously, than something that they're just picking up off the shelf to purchase.
Steve Strauss: Well, I mean, it's funny. Anyone who's done it, I've done it, knows what a fun experience it can be and I'm sure that it doesn't hurt that Los Feliz is a real family-oriented community these days, right. In fact, here, one of the things we do in this podcast is we share some love, right, some of the reviews and things you got online. So I’m going to read a couple of these to you throughout the interview and just get your comments. Let me read one that we found. ‘What a fun place! They definitely understand how to create a warm and inviting environment. My daughter and I had a great time painting and talking it would be the perfect place for a painting party. These kind of small businesses make the world a better place.’
Kind of nice to hear that kind of thing, right?
Mary Loveless: It is. It really is, especially because this is a very community-oriented business. We are there all the time. It's a labor-intensive business too. The kiln has to be loaded, unloaded. The pieces have to be dipped in the glaze and then prepped for the kiln. Not only do we hope we give each person love but each, piece pottery piece gets handled by our staff, like multiple times. We appreciate that because it is such enmeshed, engrossed, you know, I guess the non-millennial remote. It's the opposite of the remote commute job.
Steve Strauss: Right. Interested in something you just said about it's a very community based-business. Was that the plan from the start and how do you nurture and foster community?
Mary Loveless: I don't know that it was the plan but it definitely was an aim. Part of our financing is through the Small Business Administration and our loan is called the Community Advantage Loan. So, obviously, we geared and we knew that this would be part of enriching the community in which we're in. It's a meeting place. It’s a, just the fact that we have our doors open seven days a week for twelve hours a day means that there's always a smiling, friendly face for you to go and talk about art with in the neighborhood and we do have, this neighborhood is full of fun local characters. I sometimes feel like I'm in The Truman Show. You know, like people walking their dogs. They, like, stop. I’m like, hey, Bob, how's the kids, you know. It's really great.
Steve Strauss: Now, that’s community. That’s awesome.
Mary Loveless: Yeah, exactly. I mean, we do have a little water bowl out in front. The dogs all stop and, yeah. It's, I even have friends who are like, they don't really, necessarily make plans with me. They just know I'm going to be at the shop and come in.
Steve Strauss: Well, and that can really be unique in Los Angeles. I grew up in Southern California and, a lot of times, people come there who weren't from there and they don't feel a sense of community. They don't feel grounded but most Los Feliz is a smaller little subsection of Los Angeles and.
Mary Loveless: Right, it’s a walking neighborhood.
Steve Strauss: Right, it's a walking neighborhood and the fact that you created a sense of community is unique. That's got to be a nice selling point for your business.
Mary Loveless: The walking neighborhood thing is so different from most neighborhoods and L.A. I can walk to work. I can walk to two movie theaters. I can walk to three grocery stores. It's really unusual for most of L.A.
Steve Strauss: Now, you're in business for almost three years, is that accurate?
Mary Loveless: That is accurate, September, 2015 we opened.
Steve Strauss: Congratulations. That's no small feat, right?
Mary Loveless: It’s not, no. Thank you.
Steve Strauss: What have been the challenges along the way for you, would you say?
Mary Loveless: Just like with every business, we've made mistakes. It took us maybe seven or eight months before we found the location and, during that time, we kind of explored other avenues within the same kind of umbrella of ways we could make it work without a brick and mortar location and we made some big purchases that probably were not necessary, I would. If I could like go back and we had bought like a fancy camera, thinking we were going to need this for our Instagram and for photographing parties and then an iPhone 6 has a camera that's as fancy as. Anyways, so there's been some money that we've spent but I wish we hadn’t but you live and you learn.
Steve Strauss: You know, I always counsel small businesses that you're going to make a mistake. You're going to make several mistakes. It's life. It's business. That is what happens. The key is to really try and avoid those killer expensive mistakes and it sounds like you learned your lesson. We've all done that. You spend too much here or there or on-ad or whatever the case may be but you're here to tell the tale, right?
Mary Loveless: Yes, for now.
Steve Strauss: Let me read another one of your reviews. ‘What a fun activity this was! My wife and I went here for our fifth wedding anniversary. I picked it because we've done paint night before and I figured a more creative, fun outlet would be really fun for us. The staff was so kind and informative, especially to us non-sculptors.’ So that's got to be a big part of it too, that you're teaching people, maybe who’re non-artists how to have fun with the process.
Mary Loveless: Exactly. The thing that is really nice, though, we have 400, at any given time, choices of pottery to choose from and it's anything from just a blank, circle plate to a plate that's printed like a sea turtle with little bitty squares of the shells. So the difference between those, I would say, is a blank plate is sometimes harder. You have the whole realm of what could happen on this plate. Whereas, the sea turtle, it's more like a paint by numbers paint night kind of experience where you're really just relaxing and filling in with the paintbrush. So we see the whole gamut of that skill level and can accommodate for anything. I just posted to our Instagram today a painting of an octopus that is incredible. I can't do anything like that. It's really fun, also, for me to be able to see what comes out of the kiln but, alternatively, you could pick a Tiki mug and just paint it and like, oh, I just picked the eye color and I picked that mouth color and I. So it's also BYOB. So it's fun for the whole level of adults, I would say, professionals too, just chilling.
Steve Strauss: You are listening to the Post Some Love series on the Bank of America podcast. I'm Steve Strauss and I am speaking with Mary Loveless, the co-owner of Glaze Fire in Los Angeles. Mary, it sounds to me like you get all sorts of different people in your studio and that you maybe focus your marketing and your branding and your events, even, to different communities. So, you bring in the kids and the families, you bring in the dates, you bring in, maybe even corporate events. Is that accurate?
Mary Loveless: Yes, very much so.
Steve Strauss: Tell us about that a little bit.
Mary Loveless: Well, I mean, when we first opened, I thought it would be primarily kids and families and we really geared towards that but just the walk-in customers looked more like me and Sara, just young adults looking for something a little more chill and something where they could connect to their friends, learn more about their friends than playing darts at the bar. We haven't really done, in any really targeted way, traditional marketing. I guess it's all been just the social media, the people posting reviews, the. It's a brave new world. I, mean we post in the Los Feliz Ledger, which is our local paper. That's like, you know, I think they're like a super tiny, just in print like around Los Feliz. I, yeah. The target, that's another thing that's just been serendipitous. We haven't really done much targeted. We've done a couple of the post office mailers where we do the whole zip code but I think that's it.
Steve Strauss: Well, let me read one more of those reviews that you just mentioned from the Los Feliz Ledger. ‘We recently did a corporate team building event here and we had a blast. It was so much fun bonding with colleagues over painting and wine, great selection of pieces and reasonably-priced, really cute atmosphere, and a very helpful staff.’ So, again and again, we keep hearing about how great your staff is and this idea of wine, so that you geared to, obviously, adults as well.
Mary Loveless: Yes and they're right. My staff is amazing. Everyone who's on staff is doing their own really cool art hustle. Like, Mia is a singer-songwriter. Allie’s a photographer. Morgan's a photographer. Allie’s like a poet and she's doing this really cool eBook animation of her poetry. Becca is a model and also does custom painting and art. It's everyone who's on staff is very in the community. So, yes, I guess it's cool when you meet the owner but also I would say like some of my staff members are way cooler than me. Like, I’m just the shop keep and they’re, like, going to be famous singer-songwriters.
Steve Strauss: So you look at that. That's one reason you're really successful: because you're giving everyone their due.
Mary Loveless: Well, I'm very blessed and also, not only are they talented in what they do, but they're also all of the store samples are painted by them. So you can see each personality in what they paint. Like, Katie puts really silly faces on everything and you can go to her website and get her custom ceramics at katiekimmelart.com. Like, even if they’re are singing and songwriting is their thing, they're also skilled technicians at painting pottery. It’s, like, pretty great.
Steve Strauss: Pretty great. So you mentioned reviews and I’d like to drill down into that a little bit because that is one of things we really focus on a lot, obviously, on the “Post Some Love” series. How important are reviews to you?
Mary Loveless: They’re incredibly important. If I were to get, it's the main course of feedback, I guess. It's also, you know, a brave new world. It's, sometimes even, for example, there's some reviews that I get that they're still positive but I'm like, oh, this is something like, oh, we can work on. It's, I mean like, as I'm in this booth right now, I’ve been looking around. One of our reviews says that it was loud and they're right. Like, one screaming baby in the store makes it really loud and I don't have the Miss America silence photo booth for them to step into and, even though the review was like, ‘we had a great time, we’re coming back, I can't wait,’ it still gives me anxiety.
Steve Strauss: I'm wondering how online reviews may affect your offline world. We've talked quite a bit about reviews and how they're affecting your business. Los Feliz is a, as you said, small community. It’s a walking community and, for people who are not in Los Feliz, they may not know about your business. So it seems to me that one of the benefits of getting reviews online is that people, in a more broad sense, can find out about your business. Has that been proven to be true for you?
Mary Loveless: Yes, definitely, I would say, especially through the other social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook, that's a little more true. If, when Bella Thorne posts about painting pottery, obviously, a whole lot more people see it than who are just scrolling through my feed. So I think the reviews definitely more just corroborate the other exposure. They're like, what is this, and then they type it and you always kind of like, am I going to go to this place that the celebrity says is cool. Let's check the Yelp reviews first. I think it's more just like we've been vetted.
Steve Strauss: Yeah but celebrity endorsements don't hurt, right?
Mary Loveless: Of course not. We don't ask for them. I mean, we couldn't afford a celebrity post. That’s insane but that's the other thing where I was saying about how it means so much more that people write these positive reviews or that they post about it without asking because that means they really, genuinely enjoyed the experience and that it meant a lot to them. It's like the extra above and beyond. It's really cool.
Steve Strauss: You know, last I looked, you had 58 Yelp reviews and that's a nice number. Do you actively seek out reviews?
Mary Loveless: No.
Steve Strauss: Do you look for people to review or is it an organic thing?
Mary Loveless: No, we don't. Sara’s sister was one of our first reviews and I even was like, I don't know how I feel about this. This is a little like it's cheating and I think that's the only one that's not someone that organically came in, which is really incredible because, for me, I've only left like two Yelp reviews on my whole life. One was a five star and one was, you know, I wish it could have been zero stars. So, for people to actually go home and sit and type and post something means that they had an amazing experience, not just like an okay experience. It means that they like really, really liked it. So that's cool.
Steve Strauss: Yeah, I mean, think about that. The event is over. They’re home in their home and they think, I've got to share this experience with everybody else. You know, I mentioned my youth in Southern California. My dad had carpet stores and he once had a giant banner in his carpet store. It said ‘our word-of-mouth advertising starts with you’, right. He loved word-of-mouth and, to me, these days word-of-mouth is really word-of-click. It is online. It is, whether it's someone forwards your e-newsletter on or they retweet your tweet or they go to your Instagram, they like what you're doing, they like you and Facebook, or give you a review, right. That is what word-of-mouth is looking like for businesses in today's world, isn’t it?
Mary Loveless: It is yeah, and, unfortunately, it's almost the first and only course of feedback. You know, people are more likely to probably leave a review than they are to call me up and be like, hey, I want to tell you how great it was.
Steve Strauss: Interesting.
Mary Loveless: You know, isn't that weird?
Steve Strauss: Yeah it is kind of weird. When you get a review that's less than stellar, does it make you contact the person?
Mary Loveless: We’ve only gotten three.
Steve Strauss: You’ve only gotten three. Well, that says a lot about you.
Mary Loveless: And I can, like, recite verbatim all of them to you, probably right now.
Steve Strauss: So, obviously reviews are important to your business.
Mary Loveless: Of course.
Steve Strauss: Yeah. When you get a positive review, though, it must feel like it validates all the hard work you've all put into this.
Mary Loveless: It does, yeah. It really does and, because, like I said, it's, at least if most people are like me, leaving a review means that the experience was not just great. It was extra special and you needed to share it. That's the only time I've ever taken the time to leave a review. So it does mean a lot.
Steve Strauss: Well, fantastic. We've really enjoyed having you with us today, Mary. As I said, we're speaking with Mary Loveless, the co-founder of Glaze Fire in Los Angeles and, if you're ever there and you need an event and you got some time, head on over. And, Mary, if people want to find you, want to find your store, learn more about how they may come participate in a great time you're having there, where should they go to find that out?
Mary Loveless: Our website is glazefire.com and, on Instagram, we’re @glazefire.
Steve Strauss: Well, fantastic. Thank you. Congratulations for all your success and thank you so much for being with us today.
Mary Loveless: Thank you. Thank you so much. This was fun.
Steve Strauss: Bank of America is committed to helping small business owners achieve lasting growth and is now asking everyone for their support in helping small businesses grow by asking them to Post Some Love. We know that positive online reviews views help drive small business success. So we’re encouraging everyone to do just that. Choose your favorite small business and write a positive online review. Bank of America does not endorse or guarantee the perspectives, the advice, or the products or services sold by any business referenced within this podcast. Copyright 2018, Bank of America Corporation.