How We Are Doing Amid the COVID 19 Pandemic

Like everybody else in the world today, the last few weeks have been total chaos for our lives. Amid the COVID 19 breakout in the United States, every aspect of our work, business and personal lives have been uprooted. It has been extremely challenging and humbling, terrifying and rewarding, stressful and enlightening. I don’t think that I can tell you anything that you don’t already know about this slice of history that we are living through. But I thought I would share my unique perspective as a maker, a small business owner, a resident of a small town and overall anxious planner living in an ever-changing, unpredictable world.


Every year in late December, Carvel & I will close down the store and seclude ourselves with data from the previous year. This is called our Dirty South Summit. We look at what is selling from the past year, what markets were successful, what our customers are asking for, and everything else from expenses to social media data. Then we align all of that with our intentions for our company, and produce a set of goals, budgets and plans for the entire year. This year it took us 2 weeks to finish it all.


And only 2.5 months for it all to go up in smoke.


We make most of our income from our shop in Winchester, which is the easiest and most productive way for us to sell our work. A good portion of our income comes from markets and events, another good portion from wholesale and corporate gifts, and a little slice from online sales.


So how has COVID 19 effected our business? It has pretty much eliminated 90% of our revenue streams.


Although we are still allowing for over-the-phone orders and pickup from our store, we are averaging about one sale a day now. All of our markets and events through at least June have cancelled. Our wholesale partners are mostly small shops in KY who are focused on selling handmade, local items – they are all in the same boat we are in and therefore unable to make orders with us. The one thing we still currently have going for us is our online shop.


By a stroke of true fortune, one of the decisions made at this year’s Summit was to revamp our website to allow for a broader amount of our work to be available for purchasing online. This site will keep inventory numbers alongside our store, so that we know how many of each item we have at any given time and allow for online ordering with in-store pickup. Our Office Manager and tech queen, Laura, has spearheaded most of the website design and behind-the-scenes coding, while I have worked hard on my days out of the studio to capture and edit photos, weigh items, write descriptions, and give our brand a slight facelift. It has been a long 10 weeks worth of work, and we were so excited to release the website on April 1st.


Since the coronavirus hit in early March, I knew we would need to launch as soon as we could. Unfortunately, I underestimated the amount of time it would take to transfer our domain (7-10 days), the disruption this would cause to our company emails (inaccessible for 3 days) and the amount of calls with 3 different companies to get it all back on track (do you know what DNS or MX records are and how to code them? WELL I DO NOW.)


Finally, we have reached the end of that particular challenge, and we have now launched our brand-new website! Y’all – I am so excited about this!


While I am proud of it, and the work it took to get to this point, this entire situation has taken a toll on my mental health. I am the CEO of Dirty South, focusing on big picture items while Carvel, the Studio Manager, takes care of the day-to-day business. I am the one who makes most of the decisions and plans for our company; when to hire a new team member, balancing the budget, taking care of taxes, creating new ideas and designs, etc. Even on a normal year, this role takes an emotional toll on me. But since the coronavirus has hit, it has been a brick wall of emotions.


I won’t get into the muddy details here (maybe in a future blog), but know that if you are suffering with anxiety during this pandemic, you are not alone. We must find ways to cope with the stress, to learn what we can and cannot control, and let go of the rest. Easy, right? About as easy as turning the Titanic before hitting that iceberg. But we must try.


For us at Dirty South, we are taking things about 3 days at a time with a loose 7-day plan. That’s all we can do. We are past the point of denial, and the reality has set in that this is not an issue that will be resolved in a week or two, but in months-to-a-year. All our plans have been put on hold, and we are working on keeping the checkbook balanced for the next few months. We have made hard decisions and more will need to be made. All I can hope for is the wisdom to know which is the correct path to follow, and the grace to handle the effects of my choice.


We are turning our attention to YOU, dear friends. We have asked ourselves “how can we be of service to our loyal customers in this time of uncertainty?” and from that, we have found new clarity and purpose. Our goal has always to make pottery that you will love & use. So now we are shifting how to think about our products & what you will need in the next few months. This may be new designs to keep you connected during a time of isolation, or maybe just a new way for us to help with your needs. We are working on a Gift Shop section of our website, where you could shop for gift sets for the events you may have to miss in the coming months (birthdays, graduations, weddings) and we will ship them straight to your loved ones – wrapped with a note from you inside. You all are the reason we have been able to grow in the past couple of years, and we are hell-bent on continuing to provide you with the handmade pottery & services you need. 


As for our team, our two non-pottery members have been working remotely since around March 10th. Our studio potter, Cassie, is still coming in to work her normal shifts, though we have implemented strict new guidelines for all of us working in the studio. Interior doors remain open, extra soap and sanitizer have been added, social distancing rules keep us 6-10 ft apart at all times, shared tools are sprayed down after use, and at night I go down and wipe down all door knobs, light switches, faucets, etc. If the time comes that we feel it is unsafe for her to work, we will make that call. Our first concern is for our team members, and what is best for them during this crisis.


Carvel & I will continue on working in the studio, making pottery & steering the DSP ship through this mess. It won’t be easy for any of us, but we are going to do everything humanly possible to weather this storm. If you’d like to help us in this endeavor, please consider shopping with us over-the-phone, online, by purchasing gift cards or by sharing our new website with your friends.


We love and appreciate you all, keep your head up, take care of your mental health, and wash your hands.

Ashley Norman


Ashley Norman

I pray for you and your company to hang in there. You make great products and they will be wanted when this has passed. I know it won’t be easy but it will be worth it!!!

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