Orders pour in for quirky teapots as pottery bags new customers

Carters of Suffolk teapot potters Barbara Woollard, Carol Bridges, Jill Davey and Mick Orton Pictur

Carters of Suffolk teapot potters Barbara Woollard, Carol Bridges, Jill Davey and Mick Orton Picture: KEITH SUFFLING - Credit: Archant

A lockdown craze for quirky teapots has helped lift sales at a Suffolk pottery after it lost some of its key commercial customers to the pandemic.

The Typewriter teapot from the Classic British Collection at Carters of Suffolk Picture: KEITH SUFF

The Typewriter teapot from the Classic British Collection at Carters of Suffolk Picture: KEITH SUFFLING - Credit: Archant

With retail outlets closed, The Teapot Pottery at Stonham Barns, near Debenham, had to act quickly to turn things around.

The pottery – which was started in Debenham in 1978 by Tony and Anita Carter – moved to Stonham Barns some years ago.

It was taken over by new owners Mark Gillam and Alan Forward – who owns the Stonham Barns leisure complex – just before the pandemic crisis in February of this year.

MORE – Travel agent launches postcard plea to help beleaguered industry ‘ignored’ by governmentBefore the crisis, the £150k turnover business – which now employs six people – depended on a 70/30 split between trade and retail sales.

“Obviously with coronavirus that’s stopped us in our tracks with trade because all our trade sellers have been shut down or aren’t in business any more and that’s affected us badly,” explained Mr Gillam.

“But because of our investment in our marketing and retail activities the retail has absolutely shot up – so much so that we’ve turned it from a business-to-business company to a business-to-customer company. That’s a massive shift.”

Had it not been for the pandemic, the owners expected sales to reach around £250k this year but Mr Gillam still hopes – with retail sales about double what they were – the business may make up to about three quarters of that.

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“Basically we have turned that 180 degrees,” he said. “We are delighted. It’s taken an awful lot of work and an awful lot of investment to be able to achieve it.”

The sales lift was helped by a website and branding redesign, he said. The workforce was furloughed at the beginning of the lockdown period but they started bringing them back around mid-May. Since then the business has taken on two additional staff to take it up to six.

The retail sales came from visitors to the pottery and from internet sales.

“They appreciate the amount of effort that goes into them – they are all hand-made,” said Mr Gillam. “Because people weren’t able to shop so easily I think the move to the internet has been quite substantial and quite frankly I can’t see it going back at all. I think the reality is most retailers now realise they have got to have a digital presence.”

Visitors to the pottery can also paint their own teapot and get it kilned on site.

“We do still have lots of visitors to the pottery. We hope that the build-up to Christmas may see this trend continue,” said Mr Gillam.

Each of Carters’ novel teapots takes about a week to produce and are made in small quantities to make them highly collectable. The gold details are produced using real gold. The most popular designs include its Classic Book Collections, the Aga Range, the Baking Range, Figurines, the Animal range and the Classic Car and Locomotive Collections.

Among the pottery’s customers is TV celebrity Denise Van Outen who has been collecting the teapots for about 30 years.

Mr Forward said: “We have certainly seen a huge amount of interest over the summer months at the pottery at Carters of Suffolk, and our retail outlet attracted many visitors as the outstanding weather brought many visitors to the area.”

Carters of Suffolk supplies department stores, museums, gift shops and tearooms around the UK and Europe.

Recent worldwide orders include the Walt Disney World Resort’s Epcot Theme Park in Orlando, Florida, which sells British-made decorative teapots in its gift shops.