With $ 3 million in new capital, North Carolina-based startup East Fork Pottery aims to become the leading manufacturer of ceramic tableware

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ASHEVILLE – Before becoming an entrepreneur, Alex Matisse trained as a potter.

Massisse completed an apprenticeship in 2009 and set out to make his own pottery, in what he describes as an “old dark tobacco farm in Madison County.”

In 2013, Matisse, his wife Connie and John Vigeland had founded East Fork Pottery and operated a traditional wood-fired oven, making ceramic products.

Today, the three co-founders run a 120-employee company that has just completed a $ 3 million Series A cycle run by the Pentland Group.

This investment will lead to major capital improvements at both of the company’s facilities and additional employee and job growth, Matisse said in an interview with WRAL TechWire.

It wasn’t inevitable, says Matisse. It took time, and it took what Matisse described as “a sharp left turn” in the operation of the business.

The result?

The company hopes to be able to produce and sell 350,000 ceramic products this year and could increase production next year to more than one million items.

“We went through the industrial revolution in about four years,” said Matisse. “It was a crazy race, and not always easy. “

Co-founders of East Fork Pottery. East Fork Pottery Image.

What led to the pivot

Ceramics are back “in vogue,” said Matisse. Meanwhile, consumer behavior shifted towards e-commerce, which led to a new direct-to-consumer approach that businesses could use.

“We have completely changed,” said Matisse. The first major decision: to switch their production from a traditional wood-fired oven to an automated oven based on Dutch technology.

Then the company launched a new updated website and expanded the products it offered.

Then, Matisse said, came a first round of seed funding from angel investors, who were interested in the long-term prospects of the company and its founders, Matisse said. This allowed the company to expand into its first facility, 14,000 square feet of space, from which it still operates part of its manufacturing and production operations.

“We are a dynamic and very passionate group of people who are trying to do something differently,” said Matisse. “We’re interested in building a home business like Patagonia has created for the outdoor industry,” he added.

Not only are the company’s facilities – they have since grown into an additional 30,000 square feet down the road from their original location – built on advanced automation and manufacturing technology, but the company integrates technology in all its functions.

“We are embracing new technologies around e-commerce,” said Matisse, noting that the company performs its own order fulfillment operations in-house. “We sell the majority of what we make online, and we’ve made and made it ourselves,” said Matisse.

“We’ve just invested in a bunch of new technology, to streamline processes,” Matisse said of the in-house execution function.

With increasing demand from e-commerce channels, the company has also experienced accelerated growth. As demand increased, Matisse and his co-founders considered other capital investments they could make to increase manufacturing capacity.

They decided to invest in technology and invest in their people.

“We’ve adopted technology a lot in the manufacturing process,” said Matisse. “We see the adoption of automation as the only real way to provide people with decent paying jobs,” he noted.

The company recently obtained certification as a benefits company, or B-Corp, and is one of the newest such companies in the state, Matisse said. This designation is a by-product of the company’s focus, noted Matisse, who is building a business that ensures its employees earn a living wage.

The starting wage is currently $ 20 an hour, Matisse said, noting that next year the starting wage will increase to $ 22.50 an hour.

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With the Series A funding, $ 3 million goes into the company, according to an SEC filing.

Some of that money will go towards additional manufacturing capacity, with the installation of two more ovens at the new facility, Matisse said.

“We are constantly overtaking the space we find ourselves in,” said Matisse. “We have been able to achieve our goals without slamming customer acquisition,” he added, noting that the company is “accelerating its customer acquisition wheel right now”.

This is because of the investments they selected, he noted.

“Our capacity increases with all the new equipment and the new investments that we have made,” said Matisse. “The investment we have made right now will allow us to make one million pieces of pottery each year,” he added, which could place the company in the top three tableware makers in the country, a he declared.

“We are bringing a bunch of new equipment,” said Matisse. “Some of the most advanced forming machines money can buy.”

The company also plans to invest in a formal product department, so that it can manufacture and produce a variety of white label products that can match its main product lines, while adding products like large serving platter, mugs additional, additional vases, and more, to “continue to complement the current collection,” said Matisse.

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Bring more business functions in-house

But that’s just the start of what Matisse envisions for the company.

The company plans to invest $ 1 million in adding in-house clay manufacturing and recovery capacity, Matisse said.

“Securing our supply chain by investing in all of this equipment, which we are really excited about. “

For Matisse, it is about economic stability.

“The more control we have,” he said. “The more stable we will be.

“Currently, we are buying clay down the road,” he explained. “But we are relying on someone else to do the most important part of our process.”

Integrating this function internally, such as the company’s distribution center, will result in significant cost savings and increased control, said Matisse. “Our processes require a specific hardness, so we will have control. “

“Right now our north star is profitability,” said Matisse. “We’re not going to be a company that makes close to a billion dollars in revenue but still burns money.”

After making these investments, the company will still have room to grow, said Matisse.

His vision ?

“Our goal is to be in a new campus, by 2025,” said Matisse. “Everything from our factory, to a hand-thrown studio, to on-site childcare, event space, restaurants and smaller spaces for other companies that are dedicated to manufacturing, so to provide shared resources. “

“We would like to do it with debt financing, if possible,” he noted. “But I’m sure we’ll be raising capital at some point, there’s a lot of money out there that is interested in putting money where their values ​​are, and we’re a good candidate for that. , and we will need to provide liquidity to our investors.


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