SBA Microlender Helps the Clay Coyote Reinvent Itself
Clay Coyote is a gallery and pottery studio located in the heartland of Minnesota. In addition to a gallery space that showcases artists from across the country, it is also home to a small business incubator for emerging ceramic artists. Clay Coyote is best known for their flameware - a type of pottery that you can cook with on direct heat.
Owner Morgan Baum has been a loan client of the Southwest Initiative Foundation, an SBA microlender, since 2016. She shared that she gets so much from them more than a loan, including help from financial experts, filing taxes and more.
At the end of 2019, the business was thriving with seven employees. It had just completed a 100 day pop-up at Mall of America that was great for their business. Baum was also cooking with the pottery on WCCO TV to get new business and doing other things to drive up demand. Then, just as they finished up at the MOA and were catching their breath to get ready for the busy summer season, the pandemic hit, sales plummeted.
Baum turned to SWIF and the SBA for assistance during the pandemic. She was able to tap into the Paycheck Protection Program, the Economic Injury Disaster Loan and Advance, and other federal funding provided by the county.
Baum also took part in a 10 week course SWIF offered called Startup Reinvention during the pandemic. It brought together four local businesses for a collaborative workshop to help them assess last year’s challenging business landscape and create a new vision for the future. And because the class was offered virtually, travel time wasn’t an issue, which made the investment of time more manageable.
Baum explained that the Startup Reinvention course started out with the basics of defining their “Why” and their customer and challenged them to make better use of the resources that are available. Right before the course, and in the middle of the pandemic, she sold the family farm where the business had been located and bought a property in town, more than doubling the studio space in the process. This changed her whole business model and Startup Reinvention helped her rethink and reframe the brand. She explained further, “This was two hours each week that I could sit and really think about what was going on around me. It was raw, and emotional, and so helpful.”
Furthermore, SBA’s PPP and EIDL funding helped her throughout the pandemic and the business never missed a payroll, even when it was closed down. It has also exceeded pre-pandemic staffing levels and is up to nine employees. The business credits offering a livable wage and flexible work schedule with their ability to attract and keep talented potters on staff.
Final fun fact: As a result of the course, Baum realized she wanted to create more of an experience with her products – 70% of which are bought as gifts and shipped all over the country. To do that, she partnered with a local soap maker and now every Clay Coyote cooking pot comes with a branded soap - charcoal scented for the grill basket, basil for pizza, lemon for the Moroccan tagine. The goal was to instantly tap into customer’s sight, touch, and smell senses to create a deeper connection with the handmade pottery. It’s a surprise with every delivery.