With assistance from the Oregon Coast SBDC, new owner takes a turn at the wheel of local pottery institution
With a combination of innate grit and knowing where to turn when she needs help, Melanie Richardson has become the latest owner of Mossy Creek Pottery, a Lincoln City business that is an important part of the Central Coast’s creative community.
But she’d rather you not call her that.
“I feel like I’m the keeper, not the owner,” Richardson said. “This is a business that’s been here for 45 years; some of our artists have sold their work here for more than 30 years.”
The first step of keepership for Richardson happened in 2014, after she had been working as a sales person at Mossy Creek for about four years. She purchased the rights to the business name, the relationship with the artists that sold their pottery there, and took over the lease of the building.
Three years later she decided to try to buy the building and the stunning six-acre riverside property it sits on, and to grow the business. But for that, Richardson realized she needed some help.
She found it at Oregon Coast Community College’s Small Business Development Center.
“They were just amazing,” she said. “They were supportive in every way; never overstepped but were completely accessible. It was the perfect amount of help that I was looking for. Craig and Dave were both fantastic.” Craig Grant is the SBDC’s lead business advisor and has been delivering free, confidential, one-on-one advising to clients like Melanie for the past 13 years. Dave Price, a former Lincoln County business owner, has been the director of the SBDC for five years.
A new language
Based on the business plan that Grant helped her draft, she was able to secure a $303,400 loan.
“Craig helped me learn a new language so that when I spoke to the banks I could at least sound like I knew what I was talking about,” Richardson said. “And if I didn’t know what they were talking about I could go back and ask. Without that, I could have really been taken advantage of.”
Dave introduced Melanie to the Oregon Cascades West Council of Government’s Business Lending Department (CWBL) back in 2017. At that time Melanie was working with Craig on her business plan and was ready to move forward to purchase the real estate and the business – something she’d been working towards for years. “With the guidance and leadership that OCCC provided, Melanie was able to move the financing of her project along with better ease and understanding. She went the extra step to be aware of how a business should be looked at from top to bottom,” said Cascades West Business Lending Loan Officer, Sandra Easdale.
Easdale was able to utilize Lincoln County Loan Funds – economic development funds provided by the County and managed by Cascades West. She also worked with another lending partner to support Melanie’s project. The goal of Easdale’s program is to foster economic development by providing access to capital for small business owners, for either start-up or expansion needs. “This gives businesses the opportunity and capacity to play an important role in determining their futures,” Easdale said. “Ultimately, it means the creation of more jobs in communities.”
Getting her hands dirty
Though not a potter when she started all of this, Richardson and Lorie DePoalo, who has worked at Mossy Creek for about two years, have started their own line of hand built, rather than wheel thrown, pottery works – including pendants, atomizers, and decorative dishes.
“I love to work with my hands,” Richardson said. “I’ve always dabbled in creative things like silversmithing, jewelry making, and watercolor painting. I was looking for my thing, one that would stick, and I think I’ve found it. Each time you open the kiln it’s so exciting, because you never know exactly how a piece is going to turn out. As one of our artists says, if she ever loses that excitement from opening the kiln, she’ll move on.”
Just how popular the pendants and other pieces would be was a pleasant surprise to Richardson.
“Our goal was to reach $10,000 in sales of our own retail pottery,” she said. “I believe that we are already on track to meet or even exceed that.”
The duo enjoy trying out different designs, including a series of pendants and atomizers made using antique batik stamps.
“I’ve been collecting them for the last year,” Richardson said. “It’s been really fun finding them and seeing how people respond to the designs.”
Though the business would make millions if Richardson could bottle her energy, on top of being a business owner and artisan, she’s bottling something else to complement part of the pottery business.
“I was a certified aromatherapist at one point,” she said. “The desktop diffusers are a way to tie that together. I’m having essential oils made right now that we will be selling as Mossy Creek Essentials; there will be at least 10 different scents.”
Having the SBDC staff as a sounding board while she was developing her ideas was invaluable.
“The SBDC helped give me confidence that I could accomplish this even when people were telling me it was not possible,” she said. “They taught me how to not take no for an answer.”
Melanie recalled Craig saying, “‘No’ is just the beginning of the conversation,” and she said, “that really kept me going.”
As happy as Richardson is to be selling her own works, it’s the ability to provide long-term support for such a large pool of talented artists that makes her the most proud of the business as a whole.
A rich tradition
“My big thing about this business is the history,” she said. “The first owner, Bob Richardson, who is no relation though we laughed about the coincidence when we first met, opened it in 1973. He had stopped selling his work here, but we are carrying it again and he said he’s enjoyed a burst of energy because of it.”
The shop carries ceramic works from about 40 artists from all over Oregon and Washington, including a few new ones.
“We’re trying to get as local as possible,” Richardson said. “We’ve actually added three new artists from Lincoln City. Craig connected me with one of them, which made him happy.”
Even if one isn’t in dire need of a new dish, piece of ceramic art, or handmade piece of jewelry, the property and shop have a quality that seems to draw people back once they’ve visited for the first time.
“We have people that don’t even necessarily come to shop,” Richardson said. “It’s just so lovely and peaceful here that they just come for the ambiance.”
The setting is also a great place for Richardson to stop and contemplate with gratitude the part that the SBDC played in helping make her dream a reality.
“What a great service and program that is,” she said. “I tell everyone about it that I know is looking for someone to help them on their path to independence.”
Mossy Creek Pottery is located at 483 South Immonen Road, on the south side of the Siletz River. For more information, visit mossycreekpottery.com or call 541-996-2415. For more information about the Small Business Development Center, visit oregoncoastbusiness.com or call 541-994-4166. At that website, you can learn about free counseling services, classes, and about the Small Business Management Program, a year-long program open to Lincoln County businesses two or more years old. Applications are being accepted now for the Fall 2018 launch of the 2018-19 SBM program.