New York artist Jono Pandolfi is the go-to ceramist for many reputable establishments, including eateries at MOMA and the Four Seasons Hotel, and countless Michelin Star restaurants.
Jono and his brother, Nick, run a thriving seven-figure business, Jono Pandolfi Designs, employing more than 20 artists, while maintaining high standards for handmade ceramics. While Jono is busy building his reputation within the hospitality industry, Nick helps to scale the business.
Ahead, the duo share their experiences helping other makers who are looking to scale their own businesses.
Collaborating with end users
One of the toughest areas for makers is understanding the unit economics of their handmade products. How do you make a piece that customers will like and sell it at a desired price point? For Jono, it was all about incorporating his customers’ feedback when crafting each piece and its price point.
“Our name just started to spread organically through the hospitality community, because we were not only just a unique product, but actually at a price point that chefs could afford,” says Jono.
Jono works with chefs directly, getting a better understanding of what they can afford. Then, he works backward to source materials that meet their budget.
“[When] collaborating with chefs, I was learning a ton,” says Jono. “And we still invite chefs and clients to come in [to our studio] whenever we can.”
Tapping into industry influencers
As more and more chefs leaned on Jono for their tableware, restaurants organically became a top of funnel marketing channel.
“We are really a hospitality-first company. That’s the majority of our business. It’s really the origin story of where we came from,” says Nick. “And as a result, we have these incredible relationships with chefs. And it’s great from a content perspective. There are incredible photos of beautiful food on our plates that we can showcase.”
Not only are chefs photographing their culinary creations backdropped on Jono Pandolfi Designs tableware, they also collaborate with the brand on limited edition collections.
“We did an amazing release with [renowned chef] Jean-Georges [Vongerichten] around the opening of Tin Building, where we put together a little set of pieces that he uses in the restaurant and sold it directly to consumers.” The images captured by chefs and collaboration on limited edition collections all add to the story of Jono Pandolfi Designs and its those stories that set the company apart from other ceramics brands.
Nick says, “When people like you flip over the plate in a restaurant and they land on our Instagram or on our website, they can quickly understand what separates us from a more traditional dinnerware manufacturer.”
Building an ideal work environment for artists
As Jono Pandolfi Designs scaled, Jono and Nick had to expand the team and hire artists, in order to meet demand. Making sure their work environment is built for artists is a top priority. “I see it as my biggest job now to really stay plugged in with my team and focus on their experience. And that is the key to my company continuing to grow,” says Jono.
One of the helpful exercises that Jono and Nick went through to envision the kind of work place they wanted to create was to establish a set of core values for the team. “Our first core value is ‘Build from scratch.’ That one’s the most important to me, because the company’s built from scratch,” shares Jono.
In addition to being one of the rare workplaces in the greater New York area that offer artists paid time off, health insurance, and a 401(k), Jono Pandolfi Designs’ studio is also a place for artists to hone their craft. After production hours, artists can use the studio and supplies for their own projects.
Adapting the business for DTC customers
Like many businesses linked with the hospitality industry, Jono Pandolfi Designs had to adapt and expand its online business during the COVID-19 pandemic, overhauling every aspect of the operations to reach customers directly.
One of the biggest challenges for the brand during this time was shipping and logistics. “How do we go from shipping pallets of 500 dinner plates to one restaurant to 250 individual boxes of two dinner plates to 250 different customers?” Nick says. “We had to overhaul all of our packaging and really be thoughtful about how we ship out dinnerware, which isn’t easy. But we were really cost conscious, because we wanted to be able to sort of keep our price point as accessible as we could.”
Another big hurdle was also scaling the team’s customer service.
“We had to get really clear on our policies and … set up a customer service ticketing system that allowed us to manage all of that operationally,” says Nick.
By expanding its online business, Jono Pandolfi Designs grew its business significantly—and its DTC channel revenue has now eclipsed its restaurant sales.
To hear more about how Jono and Nick scaled a maker business, listen to the full interview on Shopify Masters.