Alumni Spotlight: Hollowed Earth Heals, Connects

by   |  
Mark and Sarah Batory, owners of Hollowed Earth Pottery

Photo by Jack Robert Photography, used with permission

“When people tell us that our space feels different or that there’s something different about our business, we know … what they’re seeing is what the Gospel has done for us,” said Sarah Batory (’04). She and her husband Mark (’05) have grown Hollowed Earth Pottery from its simple start into a full-time business.

Developing a Love for Art

Mark first became interested in art by watching his friend draw and make comics in second grade. He began doing the same and then explored other art forms. “I always seem to gravitate more towards the three-dimensional aspect, the very hands-on part of art,” he said. For example, he made some of his own toys.

Although he studied youth ministries at BJU, he pursued his love for art by making it his minor. He took a ceramics class the first semester of his freshman year, but the class wasn’t his idea — it was his sister’s. “She did my class schedule for me,” he explained. “She came into the room and said, ‘Hey, I signed you up for a pottery class.’ And I actually in that moment didn’t even care but got into the class, and as soon as I touched clay, I absolutely fell in love with it.”

Soon after, Mark bought his own wheel and kiln. “I … wanted to sell pottery online even though I had no clue what that would look like,” he said. “I figured I would just need to set up in a gallery somewhere and sell pieces.” When he began selling pieces around campus and in various coffee shops, he named his side hustle Hollowed Earth Pottery.

Thanks to her art teacher, Sarah began to love art when she took a class her senior year at the Academy. “He really made me wish I was more of an artist,” she said. “But I’m not a classic artist. I can’t draw or paint or anything like that.” Although Sarah enjoyed the class, she had no intention of pursuing art after the semester was over. Instead, she developed expertise in business by studying marketing management at BJU.

Pottery, from Hobby to Career

Mark and Sarah met after college. When they were married, they became an entrepreneurial dream team. However, they were not considering starting their own business yet. “I had no clue how on earth I could make pottery into a career,” Mark said.

Soon after they were married, Mark accepted a position at a pottery studio in Wisconsin. “That’s really where I learned how to make my love for pottery, this hobby, into a career,” he said. He experienced making new products, teaching, doing shows and running a gallery. “It’s all about diversifying your revenue streams,” Sarah added.

With no experience in pottery but plenty in business, Sarah found her niche helping the studio streamline processes and set up merchandise displays. “We were working under some really talented artists, but they were not the most organized,” she explained. “The art part itself was pretty overwhelming and seemed like not something that I would ever be a part of.”

The Batorys worked at the studio for three years, and then Mark returned to Hollowed Earth Pottery while Sarah managed stores in Milwaukee full time. Said Sarah: “The goal for Hollowed Earth Pottery back then was for Mark to be able to still have an income while being home with our kids full time. Those were very simple years. They were sweet years. I remember the first couple months just being like, So, what should we make?”

They decided to focus on wholesale custom-branded mugs. “I think one of our first big mug orders was for WMUU,” said Sarah. “We look back on those and we’re like, Oh, they were terrible. But that was our first big break resurrecting Hollowed Earth Pottery.”

Relocating to Greenville

In 2015 the Batorys and their two children moved back home to Greenville. They bought a house with a detached two-car garage, which they renovated as a studio, to continue their business. “We really didn’t have a place in Wisconsin when it was just us to teach, and we knew teaching could be a good part of the revenue pie,” Sarah explained.

Having relocated, one of their goals was to work together full time, but they also needed that partnership to grow closer to each other. Only a few weeks after moving back to Greenville in 2015, their son Canaan passed away just before his second birthday. “That just completely changed our lives, changed our perspective,” said Mark. “And the process of healing, our work had a lot to do with that. After losing him, it made no sense whatsoever for Sarah to sell other people clothes. … We actually pursued working together full time as passionately as we did … because we didn’t want to be apart.”

“We didn’t want to do anything else,” Sarah added. “Everything else felt pretty trivial.”

Until they could make that transition, Mark focused on producing the pottery while Sarah managed the business in addition to working her full-time job from home. She took care of the website, schedule, emails, marketing and even the glazing. “It filled up legitimately every spare second that I had,” she said.

In the summer of 2017, Sarah left her full-time job to focus on Hollowed Earth Pottery. “We built it as far as we could with me working full time elsewhere and just knew that in order to go the next step we were just going to have to take that leap,” Sarah said.

Once they had taken that step, they took their pottery to as many shows and farmers’ markets as they could and filled every order that came in. “The plan was to just do everything and then the next year scale back in what made sense for us,” Sarah explained.

Expanding Hollowed Earth Pottery

Hollowed Earth Pottery continued to grow. Three wheels had to be added to the original one in order to accommodate customers. “We couldn’t believe the amount of people that were coming to our home studio on a Saturday,” Sarah said.

That Halloween Mark took their daughter trick-or-treating at Hampton Station in Greenville where one of their friends had a business. He started thinking about relocating Hollowed Earth Pottery there to be more accessible to the public. “It was just pretty much a whim,” he said. The Batorys ran with the idea, and by the summer of 2018, they had moved into the smallest space available at Hampton Station.

Within a month, they were making plans to expand again. “We quickly realized that we wanted to be in a larger space out front that was customer-facing,” Sarah said. After calculating the increased cost, they took the risk. Since then, they have annexed three spaces in that shared studio and have a staff of six teachers, a studio manager and a business manager.

Said Sarah: “All of our years of hustling and building Hollowed Earth as a side business has just built a really strong foundation in which we’ve been able to scale up. And we continue to scale up, which is just a huge, a huge blessing.

“Even with the pandemic, God is still providing for us and helping us be able to meet the needs of our community in a pretty amazing way. And so we keep talking about if God wanted us to stop what we’re doing, this would be a pretty clear sign to have us change, but He keeps showing us that this is what we’re supposed to do.”

The Attraction of Pottery

Since founding Hollowed Earth Pottery, the Batorys said they have had to pivot and innovate to overcome challenges. But overall, they have had to rely on God. “We are using a theme that we learned from our church, and that is to be courageously dependent,” Sarah said. “We don’t want to live in fear. We don’t want to be scared to take a calculated risk that could help us scale our growth. We don’t want to be afraid of what people are going to think of us. We don’t want to be afraid of failing and not trying something. But we also want to be dependent and knowing that at the end of the day it’s all about God’s blessing and Him directing us.”

Mark and Sarah are motivated to grow their business because of the biblical truth that clay teaches. “The Bible repeatedly uses clay vessels, potters, firings, trials, all these things,” Mark said. “It’s cool we get to work with those illustrations as a job every single day … and watch people gain understanding of truth through the process of clay.”

Having been through trials, the Batorys also want to help people through pottery. Sarah said, “One thing that we love about our business is it’s a platform where we’re able to connect with people that we would never ever be able to connect with, and I think that’s why we love art so much and our medium clay. Clay brings people together.

“We’re able to witness a lot amongst the people that come in, and we really see our role in our business as being a platform. And when people tell us that our space feels different or that there’s something different about our business, we know … what they’re seeing is what the Gospel has done for us. We want to show that to other people, and a big part of that is just to be caring and open, and it’s just amazing the people that God brings to our doors.”

And to the Batorys, anyone can make pottery. “We wanted to make pottery and clay accessible to anyone,” Mark said. Added Sarah: “You don’t have to be super artsy. You don’t have to have a background. You don’t have to have all these other things. All you have to have is the desire, and we’ll give you the rest. We have never had anyone who couldn’t do it.”

For more information on Hollowed Earth Pottery, visit their website, Instagram or Facebook.