What started as a hobby working with clay is moulding into a national brand for Gerringong’s Jo Robertson.
Luxury Clay Experiences began as an idea to get Jo through COVID-19 after she lost her corporate role, but rapid growth has seen her now franchising the business and becoming a partner with experience company RedBalloon.
Jo had been attending ceramics classes for a year before losing her job.
“I did this to add wellness and something just for me to my ever-increasing busy life,” she said.
“When I lost my corporate role during COVID, I was compelled to introduce clay into other people’s lives because we needed wellness practices more than ever for our mental health.”
That’s where the idea for Wellness Clay Kits was born.
“Using and building with our hands is incredibly therapeutic and I believed it was the outlet we all needed more than ever,” Jo said.
“After lockdown, I wanted to continue helping others, so embarked on the idea of opening a studio.”
However, not having a job made it financially impossible, so she came up with the Clay Mobile concept for people unable to attend a studio to instead have the workshop brought to them.
“I know I had a love for it at school and it took me years to find a studio throughout my travels that I could attend,” she said.
Five weeks and a few successful Clay Mobile workshops later, Jo’s corporate position was reinstated, which she decided to return to.
“Within a week of being back at my corporate position, Studio 10 contacted me to feature the business,” she said.
“I had reached a fork in the road where I needed to decide whether the security of a mainstream position was what I wanted or if I took a chance with this little hobby.”
Despite the hesitation, Jo decided to go ahead with the TV opportunity.
The Network Ten feature aired on the Friday and Jo resigned on the Monday.
She said she started small with friends and family, but within months found herself booked out.
Packages with partners were then developed, including clay and cocktails, clay and floral, and clay and candle workshops, before expanding into hosting workshops inside high-end holiday properties for guests.
“It was a great selling point to their property. Offering guests an in-house experience made them stand out from the crowd,” Jo said.
“We have some of the best architectural and designed properties in Australia on the South Coast.”
Now established, Jo introduced sustainable practices, with recycling tools for each event, not firing clay to save the environment, using clay dug from the ground with no toxins, and using recycled products.
That focus on sustainability caught the eye of RedBalloon Experiences.
“RedBalloon contacted us while we were franchising the business,” she said.
“It was another ‘pinch me’ moment because it couldn’t have come at a better time – it was like the stars were aligning.
“I have always been a firm believer in things happening for a reason.
“Just prior to franchising the business, I had really concentrated on becoming a sustainable business.
“This was a game-changer because this was a crucial component to becoming a RedBalloon affiliate.”
With most of her business taken up with sold-out private events, she found there was a demand for workshops for smaller groups so began booking public workshops, with sell-out events at Georgia Rose at Shell Cove and Centennial Vineyards in Bowral.
“People have been able to purchase our clay experiences through RedBalloon as gifts or for personal enjoyment and use those vouchers at our public events,” Jo said.
“This [RedBalloon] has really scaled our business from a South Coast and Illawarra business to an Australia-wide business.
“It allows new franchise owners a great opportunity to use this platform to kick-start their businesses Australia-wide.”
The instigator for franchising the business was workshop participants expressing a desire to do it as a business themselves.
“Just like me, I was in a corporate role, was unsatisfied, overworked and underpaid for the time and effort I was putting into someone else’s business,” she said.
“There is nothing more rewarding than owning your own business that doesn’t feel like work but in fact feels like you’re attending an amazing event yourself and being surrounded by amazing people having a great time.
“I get as much wellness out of running my workshops for my own mental health and wellness.”
The business was franchised 10 months ago, and within the first three months sold Luxury Clay Experiences Canberra.
Jo is now working with several potential franchise partners, and anticipates more coming on board between now and 2024.
“It’s a real ‘pinch me’ moment. Seeing what started as a small hobby turn into what could be a national brand is mind-blowing,” she said.
She received further validation she’s on the right track after taking out the Illawarra Women in Business Innovation Business Woman of the Year Award in May.
“It is one of my biggest achievements to date,” she said.
“We were up against the best in the business in the Illawarra and I was extremely grateful and overwhelmed to have taken it out.”
The next phase of the business will see her becoming an NDIS provider and taking the experiences into nursing homes.
You can learn more about Luxury Clay Experiences on its website.