A little over a year ago MIY lost one of its most foundational staff, my father Sergio Mendez. My father and I were and are very similar. We liked and fought over the some foods, like the crispy rice (raspa/pegado), the one extra charred thin porkchop, and who would get the last taco shell on taco night. We argued like cats and dogs, yelled at each other at the top of our lungs and within 5 minutes we found consensus. He taught me vector math, and the Merrill Reid method for personality styles, he loved public speaking and telling stories, and so do I. He was a mentor, role model, and my biggest supporter and also the greatest nagger on the planet. The stories I could tell about my dad and his "support" of me and the studio would fill a book and often times would have been something of a sitcom where Que Pasa USA meets some of the craziest Seinfeld characters. I would love to share some of what my dad meant to me and part of the origin of MIY ceramics.
I got bitten by the "clay bug" because of William Kidd who taught ceramics at Hialeah Miami Lakes High School circa the 1990's and has gone off to infect all high schools kids all over south Florida throughout the decades with his amazing skills. I think his latest crop is coming from Krop High School. Even one of his old students, Kaitlyn Coughran, one of our staff, originated from William Kidd. Inspired by the beauty found in the natural world, my work is not an imitation of any real living thing, but rather life forms that might exist in some other worldly place. ( www.williamkiddceramics.net ) "Billy the Kidd" as he often jokingly called himself spent 5 minutes teaching me how to throw on the wheel and then another 45 minutes showing me how to clean up and not mess up his sink. It was love at first muddy touch, it was months of struggle and grit and eventually I was able to successfully throw and make things. I carried that love of making through all my of college years and into my work life as an engineer.
In the early 2000's I discovered Fire and Mud. I was a member of a studio for many years which towards 2007 which was going through a series of crises in ownership, which eventually led to it closing. When I got that fateful call from Alan Jedla to "come get my stuff", I did not think opportunity I think it was closer to "OMG what am I going to do!!! This is my THERAPY! There is nothing like it anywhere! Well I guess I am just going to buy a wheel and kiln and put it in my backyard". My mom said I was crazy and I was going to blow myself up, but my dad who recognized an opportunity said, "Well if you are going to spend that kind of money.... You have a captive audience... Could you make it a business and make money?". A few days later Alan Jedla followed up that sentiment with "If we have a fearless leader, we will support them in any way we need to, answering phones, teaching classes". That was it, the nexus of the studio originated with two fathers Sergio Mendez and Alan Jedla. Between the two I had enough wind to think that I could maybe possible make this work. Alan helped mentored me on pottery, teaching, and members, and dad kept me on the business track.
MIY stands for Make it Yourself. The studio was born around the idea that with some love, help, and your own personal brand of grit you can make or do anything. The grit part comes from my dad. I have never met a more stubborn, tenacious, persistent person in my life. Whenever he had an idea or an aha moment it didn't matter the time, you were going to hear about it over and over and over again. He was a pitbull with a porkchop when it came to anything at the studio that would bring us business. In 2007 it started with the website, I said to my dad we need a website, that is how people will find us. So I learned everything I needed to, setup all the infrastructure and taught my dad HTML and he took over building the website. Soon we realized there was something called page rank and another thing called Google Adwords, which we could use to show up on searches. And so my dad started researching when he stumbled on "the formula".
He peppered the website with "pottery" and "open studio" in such excessiveness that it was unreadable, but it actually improved the page rank for a brief minute we would show up on top searches on Google! I can't tell you how often he would wake me up at 3 in the morning because he found a new feature that he thought would get us more visibility, and the list of keywords he kept in pencil all over the house on those yellow notebook pages from office depot. He was our first marketing manager and he taught me about how to persist in getting those backlinks.
Shortly after the website and the adwords phase, started the Meetup years. Once I taught him how to use the platform, he became our "social" director and would schedule meetups any time, all the time. I can't tell you how often I was at the studio and people showed up for a "meetup" to my surprise or utter chagrin because I was just about to leave and go home! I would angrily call him and whisper vehemently "Stop scheduling meetups!". This happened DOZENS if not hundreds of time. There was one Saturday I had classes from 10am-8pm! I must have taught at least 100 people that day! He would jump on any business anytime. Lesson I learned don't turn away business, and how to push through shear exhaustion.
Following Meetup we started to dabble with Groupon. But like all things my dad took this coupon/dealsite phase to an extreme. There was the year we were on every deal site on the planet Groupon, Living Social, something called Contessa, and many more that died as quickly as they sprung up. I couldn't turn around and there was yet another coupon from another customer from some little coupon site copycat my dad signed us up for. For almost a year he pestered me to put membership and pottery painting on Groupon, and how I had to show him financially that through the Pareto Principle why both those were a really bad idea. This was our advertising lesson. The cost of advertising, the value, and how to game the advertising system.
The studio and how we find customers has continued to evolved with many ups and downs and the speed and change of technology became to fast for my dad and his failing health to keep up with. So he helped where he could. Not a day would go by that he wasn't answering emails, or returning voicemails at the studio. In his last few days he would ask me when we were going to get the new Wix site up that our page rank was failing.
My father encouraged me to build the studio but always keeping in mind that it should be run like a business. He taught me patience, relentlessness, grit, and to put one foot in front of the other. Failing forward and learning form it.. He was always there in his capacity to help and support. At one point he even tried to learn how to throw, when he realized how hard it was, he would moved to helping keep the studio clean. He would clean the front of the studio, pick up all the trash in the front and go on about how important first impressions were.
I love him and miss him dearly and I wish I was still getting his 20 minute voicemails saying "Denise, llama me." followed by him forgetting to hang up of the phone and I could here him typing at the keyboard by his computer.
The little studio that could, still does and is. I love you dad forever.