How a celebrity influencer exploded this P.E.I. potter's sales during COVID-19
Pink 'Jilly mugs' selling out in seconds online
It was a simple post on social media that started it: Jillian Harris ordered four pink mugs from P.E.I.'s Village Pottery, and posted about it in a story on Instagram. Village Pottery suddenly received a big influx of followers and orders for the mugs.
A few days later potter Suzanne Scott restocked her pink mugs on Etsy, a global online art and craft marketplace.
"What a pleasant surprise to see @jillianharris order these mugs yesterday," Scott posted to Instagram, adding #shopsmall. Then, Harris posted that mention to her followers. The mugs sold out again in just a couple of minutes.
'It's quite the blessing to happen right now.— Suzanne Scott
On the surface perhaps such things might not seem important — some of Village Pottery's 10,500 followers might see the post, nor not — an Instagram story only lasts online for 24 hours, then disappears.
But Jillian Harris is what is called an "influencer," and has more than a million Instagram followers. The B.C. native became a celebrity from appearing on the television shows The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, then Love It Or List It. As many influencers do, she has written a cookbook, and partners with mostly Canadian brands to sell products on her website and via a seasonal subscription box called the Jilly Box (so popular there's a lottery to decide who gets them). Oh — and her signature colour is pink.
"All of the mugs sold out within minutes, it was very unexpected," says Scott, taking a break from setting up her pottery shop in New London for the summer. Most years she'd open by the end of May, but with COVID-19 causing uncertainty, she's aiming this year for mid-June.
"The wave has continued to get bigger ever since that one little story that she shared, and it's just gotten kind of crazy now!" she said.
'It's been overwhelming'
Harris ordered four mugs and Scott said luckily she had a few left on hand to re-stock her online shop, which again sold out quickly, leaving customers clamouring for more.
"I've created a wait list," Scott said.
She said it takes three to four weeks to create each piece of pottery, and she thought about capping the list, but has decided to let it build up. Over the weekend it grew to 1,500.
She's had to enlist the help of fellow potter Robert MacMillan in fact, to turn out more mugs while she glazes them.
"It's been overwhelming because it's kind of happening at the best and the worst time," she said. One challenge has been a shortage of supplies like glaze and shipping boxes — she said "everybody is just stretched right now."
"Such a great thing to happen for us because we depend on the tourist season and it's just not looking that great for us, so it's quite the blessing to happen right now."
Prince Edward Island's tourists could be limited to only Islanders this summer, as borders remain closed to visitors to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Officials are looking at partnering for the summer in a "bubble" with New Brunswick, which has also seen good containment of the virus, but nothing has been decided yet. Even then, there's no replacing approximately 1.5 million tourists to P.E.I. each year, mostly in the summer.
Scott said 60 per cent of Village Pottery's income is usually made in July and August, and replacing that will be "a challenge, big time. But for right now, the shoulder season months, having these online sales is keeping us going, so — it's huge right now and I hope it will just continue on and we'll get through this rocky time. "
'Stumbled on it'
Scott has been making and selling pottery for about 10 years, and her parents before her for about 40 years, but they hadn't featured a pink glaze before.
"It was literally a freak accident that we had this glaze to begin with," she said. Her mother Daphne mixes the glazes and happened to have the ingredients for pink lying around and decided to give it a try.
"I have so many buckets of glaze that I work with every day and I think I stumbled on it at the end of the season last year and just did a few pieces," Scott said.
She sold some pink pottery over the winter and it was very popular, so she was preparing for it to be a big seller this summer. Now with the Jillian Harris effect, she's unsure if she'll be able to stock any pink in her shop, or will just work away at her wait list for what she now calls "Jilly mugs."
There is nothing that means more to me than being able to support a local shop during such an uncertain time.— Jillian Harris
She's had to enlist the help of fellow potters, in fact, to turn out more mugs while she glazes them.
A couple of local businesses that sell Village Pottery have also seen them sell out quickly — not just the pink ones, but other colours and products too.
Scott has also created other designs that are taking off.
"Throughout the pandemic I was struggling to get creative and trying to find a reason why I would keep be making, if there would be nobody visiting the shop," she said. She began making mugs with the messages "stay at home" and "wash your hands" stamped into the clay. A portion of the profits go to a local women's shelter.
'Worked out perfectly'
There could yet be another gold — or pink — rush if and when Harris shows off the mugs on her blog.
"It makes my heart so full to see the incredible outpouring of support Village Pottery received after I reshared their Instagram post with the message that their beautiful blush pink mugs had been restocked," Jillian Harris told CBC via email. She said she ordered the "stunning" mugs for her new office space.
"Not only am I excited to use these handmade mugs daily in our new Team Jilly headquarters, but there is nothing that means more to me than being able to support a local shop during such an uncertain time," Harris said.
Scott has already thanked Harris with a package of P.E.I. gifts and hopes someday Harris and her family can visit P.E.I. and the shop.
Scott said the immense influence of a couple of fleeting mentions on social media has been a light-bulb moment for her.
"Getting your product in the right hands, you know? It's all about finding that person who is going to put your product out there, and all of her followers are also my target market, you know — women age 25 to 50. So it's just worked out perfectly for us," she said.
Scott said she is thankful she already had a strong online and social media presence and was able to be able to respond to the demand as nimbly as she has. She encourages other businesses considering opening brick-and-mortar shops to also work on their online presence and getting their products into the hands of influencers.
"Because you never know who's going to be sharing them!" she said