by Morri Mostow

Decorative Artist Gets Big Boost from Internet

2001 was the best year ever for Knowlton Decorative Tiles, Cindy Moynan’s home-based ceramics business. Thirty-percent of sales came from the Internet, all from U.S. customers, and this year Moynan even has an order from Barbados! Moynan’s success is a testament to targeted marketing using the right sales channels: a combination of art shows and the Web.

Moynan got really serious about her business four years ago, when her third child started school fulltime. Since then, she has developed a growing following through her participation in the spring Home Show, the summertime Tour des Arts, and the October Quoi de Neuf arts and crafts show. “At last year’s Quoi de Neuf show in Foster, I sold 60% of my stock by 1 p.m. on the first day!” says Moynan, whose customers come from all over the Townships, Montreal and the U.S.

But the real growth is coming from the Internet. Her Web site now nets such large orders that she sometimes has to send them to a fellow ceramicist in Portland, Oregon, a women she “met” on the Web. Moynan also gets referrals from this artisan, who has also become her unofficial Web mentor, offering suggestions that have helped Moynan continually improve and expand her site.

Two years ago, Moynan decided to go online to expand her business because, she says, “I simply couldn’t afford to advertise.” She quickly mastered the rudiments of online business: she makes time every month to resubmit her site to a dozen or so major search engines so that her business pops up at the top of search requests; and she uses PayPal, a U.S. service, to collect payments from her customers. (PayPal lets small businesses and individuals accept credit-card orders.) “I don’t send out an order until PayPal has received the payment for it,” she explains. “It protects me and my customers.”

Moynan got into the ceramics business somewhat by accident seven years ago, when she and her husband were renovating their Bondville kitchen. The hand-painted ceramic tiles she wanted were beyond their budget, so she decided to make them herself. She did such a good job that, at the suggestion of her husband, she starting making hand-painted ceramic tiles, wall murals and borders for others. She soon branched out into a wide range of ceramic objects that she fires, glazes and hand-paints in her basement workshop, which houses a potter’s wheel, two kilns and a huge number of molds for tiles, dishes, platters, etc.

Every object she creates is unique. Even though she uses the same mold for all her teapots, for example, every one is different because “once I pour the clay, I can add flowers or a little houses to the lid, then paint a scene on the side,” she explains. Particularly popular as wedding and anniversary gifts are her large “home platters,” which she fires, glazes and paints with a picture of a house or farm from a photograph sent to her by the customer.

Most of her orders are for custom work. “I can paint whatever customers want me to match, whether it’s wallpaper or an antique dish motif,” she explains. Right now, Moynan is busy making 250 plant pots, in three different patterns, for a U.S. customer, which represents three months of solid work.

When she’s producing inventory to sell at the various art and home shows, her work often spills over into the rest of the house. “Whenever my husband complains, I remind him that my business was his idea in the first place!” she says with a laugh.

Knowlton Decorative Tiles, by appointment only, at (450) 243-0681.