BORDEN-CARLETON - From Tignish to Texas, you can find Cindy and Darryl Lentz’s products on shelves.
The couple’s Borden-Carleton business, Right Off the Batt Pottery, has caught on all across North America, with more than 70 retailers continent-wide.
And now they’re receiving some accolades a little closer to home.
The pair was named the recipients of the Excellence in Product Design award at the 16th annual Atlantic Canada Craft Awards for Excellence in Halifax earlier this month.
The award, which is handed out to a company that demonstrates outstanding creativity and quality, serves as reassurance for the couple.
“It validates our concern for the company. It says that our peers agree with us and respect us for what we do,” Cindy said.
That concern goes back to 2008, when the Lentz’s relocated to P.E.I. from Kingston, Ont., where they both worked with the military.
After retiring from the forces, Cindy knew she wanted to start her own pottery business. She had taken pottery classes in Kingston, and grew to love the clay.
“It seemed something natural,” she said. “They say if you’re going to do something, do something you love to do. It was something I loved to do, and (Darryl) came on board a couple years later.”
After speaking with Innovation P.E.I., Darryl was convinced to join his wife in the pottery business. At first helping out around the shop with odds and ends, he eventually took to the wheel and began turning out work of his own.
“I asked Cindy how I could get involved with it, and then one thing led to another and I ended up as a potter as well.”
In their first year of operation, Right Off The Batt Pottery had 16 retailers and a small facility in Kinkora. It typically turned out orders in about two months.
Today, they operate out of a 7,600 square foot building in Borden-Carleton, just within reach of the Confederation Bridge. Their retailers now have their products on their shelves within two weeks of placing an order.
On top of handling a wholesale business, they also offer tours of their workshop and their
Play in Clay program gives people the chance to learn how to make their own products. Last year they had more than 500 visitors to their factory.
Having a location right off the bridge helps bring people in, but it does have its drawbacks, Cindy said.
“It’s an awesome location for (tourism), but it gets a bit chilly in the winter. The wind cuts right through you,” she laughed.
With a small team of employees that ranges from a recent Sri Lankan immigrant to a chemical engineering graduate from the University of Queen’s, working together is paramount to keep up with their 70-plus retailers.
“Everybody has to get along well,” she said. “We’re in a small environment and each person has their own responsibilities, and each step is critical to the next step.”
“They have to really care about the product. It’s not just a job,” Darryl added.
Coming from a military background, working in a goal-driven environment that’s heavy on procedure has been a natural transition. They’ve been able to grow their clientele by nearly 60 retailers in four years, all the while keeping up with their demands.
“It’s like a child,” Cindy said. “As you’re growing them, you have to devote a lot of time and energy to it until it can walk on it’s own.
“It’s getting there. It’s a toddler right now.”
Along with the growth of the company has been a growth in their talent. They pride themselves on the ability to turn out large orders with less than 10 per cent variance in dimension, Darryl said.
That small variance is what sets them apart from factory products and makes them unique, he said.
“Most of the time when you find the exact ones, they’ve got a little sticker on the bottom that says ‘Made in China’…Wal-Mart has lots of exact makes.”
It’s the variance and imperfections that make it more than just a mug or a pot, he said.
“We make things with character and depth and warmth and experience. Someone can come here and talk to the person who made their entire dinner set. They can see exactly where that mug was made, and how it was made.”
In the future, the Lentz’s are looking to take their award-winning products and expand even further. After hitting what they call a “saturation point” in the Maritimes, they plan to grow their clients list further west, into the bigger markets of Central and Western Canada.
With all the growth and expansion, one thing remains certain for the future; they’ll never move from the red dirt below their bridge-view building, no matter how windy it gets.