Updated at 11:50,16-10-2017

Lucrative clay: how to make money on Belarusian souvenirs

Mariya Maliavko,UDF.BY. Pictures made by the author

A little village of Troshytsy presents no visual evidence of hosting an enterprise that is known nationwide. At noon the local streets are empty, but for two shaggy dogs that start making noise having noticed a stranger.

The factory is located close to the road. Mir is 4 km from here. Mirskie Uzory occupy the building of an old school they got it with the help from local authorities. The room where Im waiting for the interview to start is a part of ceramic paradise: dozens of small vases, bells, statuettes that are standing next to folders with business papers. Journalists are always welcomed here with a great hospitability.

Ivan Ivanovich, the head of the enterprise, introduces himself and walks me into the accounting office, with an unchanging and pleasing smile on his face. Being an experienced economist, he runs all the financial issues by himself. His first question is how we found out about his factory. The fame of Mirskie Uzory sometimes has an unexpected response: even foreigners express interest.

Ivan Ivanovich: Just two weeks ago two buses of Frenchmen visited. They came from Baranavichy to see the agricultural facility and our factory. The Baranavichy authorities didnt even know about us. They wanted to take the guests to the airplane factory. But the Frenchmen said they got their own airplane factories and wanted to see the kolkhoz and the ceramics factory. I wonder how they learned about us. On the Internet, probably.


And the public is not only curious about the ceramic from Mir. Today the factorys products are sold in all big Belarusian cities. Ivan Ivanovich shows two thick folders with lists of buyers: from largest trade centers like main department stores in Minsk to shops in almost all cities with population of 100,000+. The assortment is wide from small souvenirs: bast shoes, bells and statuettes to meter-high ceramic vases with unique painting.

Lucrative clay: how to make money on Belarusian souvenirs

Showcase

Lucrative clay: how to make money on Belarusian souvenirs

Rural theme

We have lots of pre-orders and cant satisfy the demand completely, - Ivan Ivanovich cant conceal his own amusement. Despite the difficult times in economy, Mirskie Uzory still feel safe.

The main thing is that our products are of demand. Nothing can be worse than filling up your storages.


Ceramic factories in Radashkovichy, Ivianets and Vaukavysk are the main competitors. Mirskie Uzory managed to preserve lower production costs, while keeping the quality up. If we raise prices our goods will stay at our storages. The demand for such things is very elastic. The market share is won with a clever managerial approach to production.



Ceramics is more interesting than gas and oil

Ivan Ivanovichs economic background is noticeable right away. Having a degree in economics from the Belarusian Economic University, he was the chief accountant at Beltransgaz for 5 years. Then he decided to leave and get back home: It was difficult to go back and forth all the time. The local employment office had nothing decent to offer for a person with such experience and skills.

Lucrative clay: how to make money on Belarusian souvenirs

Ivan Ivanovich

The local government suggested starting a private enterprise to produce souvenirs. They promised to help me, saying, tourists visit to see the castle, so we have to offer something to them. Ivan Ivanovich did a research on types of products. He even went to Ukraine to get familiarized with wood engraving in Ivano-Frankivsk region and with ceramics in Slavyansk. And the ceramics was his choice.

We could import goods from Ukraine or Bialystok to sell here. But, you know, its kind of shameful to sell imported goods with a Belarusian tag, as if we couldnt make our own products.


Mirskie Uzory started its own production in 2008 in cooperation with ceramic master Viktor Malinovski. At first, they were located in Mir. The major part of products was sold at the Castle. But in less than a year the souvenirs became available all over Belarus. Two years later the enterprise moved to Troshytsy seeking to expand its production capacity.

Ceramics is more interesting than working at Beltransgaz. Here you see the result of your work, the beautiful things that you produce.


Lucrative clay: how to make money on Belarusian souvenirs

Viktor Malinovskiy

Ivan Ivanovich cant even remember the exact time when the enterprise became profitable: it happened very fast, because the popularity of its products exceeded all expectations. During the first two-three years, the profit was high enough to buy by installments the automated lines of the Minsk Phosphorus Works. However, the production on them did not start. According to Ivan Ivanovich, after the 2011s rouble devaluation the financial situation deteriorated and the company could not afford to expand the production capacities.

They had to renovate the half-deserted buildings of the school. In 2012 the enterprise received $29.500 of financial assistance from the Hrodna region authorities.

Of course, its not much. But it was of a great help. We had much to do in the building, like replacing the wiring.




Earnings have to earned

Ivan Ivanovich has taken a deep interest in the ceramics business: he knows every inch of the factorys area and with a warm care he shows how gradually, shop by shop, cylinders of clay turn into adorable goods.

The companys manager is convinced that the main recipe of being competitive is planning the production in a way that will eliminate unnecessary expenses. Because of the roubles downfall, production gets more labor intensive the major part of revenues cover salaries. Mirskie Uzory feel this problem too.

The company is very thorough in hiring people there should be no unproductive dead weight. Ivan Ivanovich proudly tells about the best masters who are, according to him, the linchpins of the factory. Specialists come to work here from Baranavichy and Ivianets. The director knows every employee by name.

Lucrative clay: how to make money on Belarusian souvenirs

Moulding

Ivan Ivanovich does not hire higher school graduates. It doesnt mean Im against the higher education. But university courses lack practice. Students should spend 3 of 5 years in real production, like they do in Europe. The entrepreneur complains that the youth go to universities for the sake of diplomas only. He also mentions the Belarusian mentality.

Many people here do not understand that they should be worth their salary. Just being at work till 5p.m. is not enough. It only means how much you managed to do. Some guys I know worked in Germany for some microchip company. After a month they came back saying: Germans are strange! We go to bathroom they are staring at us, to have a smoke they are staring. They were only glad to buy cheap electronics there. But their prices are low there because their labor is very efficient.


Today the enterprise has 52 employees. The average salary is 3,5-4 mln.



Business Dynasty

Ivan Ivanovich runs the business with his son, Igor. He is always busy and finds only a minute to enter the office. I ask what advantages family businesses have. Ivan Ivanovich confesses that without son he would hardly manage to run this enterprise. While the father is in charge of finances, the son is the head of production.

I wouldnt make it without him. Its difficult to find a committed manager. If theres an urgent order, some other person can say: my working day is over. But sometimes you have to stay overtime.


Ivan Ivanovichs daughter also made a try in the family business, but it didnt last. In fact, it is very difficult. And the youth want to move to Minsk.



Glaze vs Chinese stuff

All the goods are still molded manually at the factory. In the workshop pottery wheels are spinning to the sounds of music from an old player. This is Viktor Malinovskiy that I told you about, - Ivan Ivanovich is proudly saying that other media already told stories about this craftsman. Masters themselves are concentrated and unwilling to talk much.

Lucrative clay: how to make money on Belarusian souvenirsEach article goes through several stages after the preparation of the clay: molding, burning, polishing, glazing, painting. In each workshop there is a variety of molds and paint. This is one of the best employees, - Ivan Ivanovich says about a woman that glazes a flower pot with a brick-colored glaze.

The models are made by the masters themselves. You just keep admiring the variety of ideas, realized with clay: the world of the ceramic factory is richer than you may think looking from outside. The guests are always delighted.

Many companies are switching for cheap painting with acrylic paint. The product is bright and has low quality. I call it Chinese stuff. Inexperienced buyers cant make difference. Of course, paint is good for souvenirs, but pots and vases get mold after the contact with water. And after this the thing is ruined.


Ivan Ivanovich admits that many people offer him to make production cheaper this way, but the thought of tricking buyers is unacceptable. Besides, retailers appreciate a high quality of ceramics from Mir and this helps to win the competition. In Belarus glazed ceramics is now produced only in Troshitsy and Vaukavysk.

The real ceramics should be glazed. Only such goods are valued abroad. We have to decently represent our country.


Lucrative clay: how to make money on Belarusian souvenirs

Painting

Painting of glazed goods is a real art. Each article becomes unique. Not many employees are ready to do this job. Not all of them have art education, but they are gifted! Looking at lively pictures you understand once again that the main asset of Mirskie Uzory is its masters that invest their extraordinary skills into Belarusian ceramics.



Who buys Belarusian souvenirs

Not only above mentioned French tourists take interest in the Belarusian ceramics. There are cooperation proposals from the Netherlands and Canada, but the existing capacities do not allow to produce sufficient amounts of products.

The Dutch were extremely interested in buying. They said, give us all you produce, well bring it by planes.


However, today even the domestic demand surpasses the supply.

Lucrative clay: how to make money on Belarusian souvenirs

Souvenirs

The enterprise is not isolated from fluctuations of the world around. During the last year, due to the events in Ukraine, the number of Russian tourists decreased dramatically. Demand in tourist sites in Mir and Polotsk went down as well. Individual craftsmen, who enjoy tax benefits, are becoming serious competitors. But this was not a shock for the enterprise, thanks to a developed distribution network. In February the profit was Br 190mln.

Belarusneft gas stations are a real goldmine. People drive by and buy souvenirs.


Ivan Ivanovich promotes authentic Belarusian themes into production. They have Belarusian dolls, angels in vyshyvankas, funny mills and cups with coats of Belarusian cities and castles.

Lucrative clay: how to make money on Belarusian souvenirs

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Lucrative clay: how to make money on Belarusian souvenirs

Angel in vyshyvanka

Lucrative clay: how to make money on Belarusian souvenirs

Cups with Kosava castle

Lucrative clay: how to make money on Belarusian souvenirs



Prospects

The family of Kovalev are the type of entrepreneurs that are inclined to making the life around better. Ivan Ivanovich speaks a lot about the agriculture and how farmers can make money if they have their own equipment.
The territory of the factory is full with flower beds; the paths are looked after and paved with tiles. Everything was deserted here. We refined the area by ourselves. On flower beds weve grown cannas. Many people are astonished to see them here.

Ivan Ivanovich demonstrates the area between the factory and roadway: This is the perfect place for a café and countryside hotel next to the roadway.
Talking about future, the head of Mirskie Uzory expresses a little worry the situation in the country is complicated, but theres always a desire to act. I would really like to start the lines from Minsk. This would increase our production of crockery and household goods. We really want to expand.

There are many ideas. But implementing a new model is not cheap. Modelers work costs 500-700$ per one model.


We wish the factory in Troshytsy the best of luck and success. So that the Belarusian ceramics occupied the stores in many countries, on this and other continents.