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Pottery planning for Jubilee rush
Jane and Stephen Baughan took a big gamble when they decided to invest £1.1m into their business, Aston Pottery, just as the world economy was going into a nosedive in November 2008.
But their confidence has paid off, and their expanded café — highlighting British food, much of it local — has transformed their farm buildings into a popular day-out destination for both local customers and tourists.
The success of the expansion led to Aston Pottery being named 2011 winner of the Four Pillars Tourism, Hospitality and Leisure Award at the Oxfordshire Business Awards.
The business’s work in wooing younger customers through Facebook and other social media was also rewarded by a shortlisting in this year's West Oxfordshire Business Awards.
Mrs Baughan said: "The café is a huge success. The food is cooked on the premises and it's proved a big hit. The shop is pretty good too, considering the economic situation.”
Mr Baughan started his career as a builder, but chose to turn his pot-making hobby into a business. His first design was inspired by a clematis he spotted while working on the roof of the old post office in the tiny, picturesque village of Aston, near Witney.
The couple set up the pottery in 1991, designing, making and painting mugs and plates from raw clay, touring trade fairs to sell through wholesalers. They set up a shop a few years later in an old cowshed at Kingsway Farm in Aston.
“From then on, we started selling cards and wrapping paper and gradually expanded into selling a few other things that complemented the pottery,” said Mrs Baughan.
They use traditional techniques — slip casting; pressing; jigger and jolleying — and industrial processes to make the shapes combined with their own stencilling techniques developed to decorate the ceramic surface. The pieces are then glazed using modern materials to make them microwave and dishwasher proof.
With the growth of cheap imports from China, it became less worthwhile to compete on the shelves of large retailers, and they now concentrate on a few small outlets, plus direct sales via their shop and internet site. The couple now visit trade shows as customers rather than sellers, to source products for the new shop.
“We still make all our pottery here in the stables,” she said. “We have held back on selling through large outlets, but we are getting more inquiries now because people look at our website and ask if they can stock our products.”
At Aston they display more than 120 different designs from traditional to contemporary, most with a rural theme.
Sessions where customers can paint their own designs, have proved popular with children and adults. School visits are welcomed, as are bookings for group sessions.
As well as pottery, the shop now sells gifts for the garden and interior, plus bags and jewellery.
Aston Pottery's band of china painters are bracing themselves for a busy couple of months completing commissions for the Queen’s Jubilee. As well as a special jubilee mug, the pottery is offering communities the chance to create their own mug, to give to children as a commemorative souvenir.
They are now on the way to fulfilling their business plan to boost customer numbers from 8,000 to more than 20,000 and turnover from £320,000 to more than £1m.
Since the extension was finished, another 25 staff, most living locally, have been added in the shop, restaurant and pottery on top of the previous 25-strong workforce.
Mrs Baughan said: “It is our 21st anniversary this year and we have a large planting scheme for the garden. It is all part of making it an attractive place to come to — a bit of a destination.”
* Contact: 01993 852031 * Web: www.astonpottery.co.uk