A couple of days ago I found out that PMC Connection was going out of business. Mary Ann Devos had left as Director of Education for Aida Chemical Industries in 2001 and began PMC Connection soon thereafter. This, she had said, was to be the “hobby” arm of the PMC distributorship and, together with Rio Grande, they sold PMC silver (and other metal clay products). She and her husband Ken ran the business before turning it over some years later to Earl Roberts and then Jennifer Roberts. Of course, I’m not privy to the reasons for the closure, but I can tell you that I’m very sad. Sure, as owner of Art Clay World USA, Inc., we were in “competition” for the silver metal clay business, but looking at the bigger picture, we were all a part of a medium that we thought was worth devoting much of our time, energy and money to.
I don’t know what is going to happen to the many, many PMC Connection instructors. Both PMC Connection and Rio Grande had stopped certification some months ago. But the current PMC Connection instructors were using their discounts to purchase clay for classes. I’m hoping that Rio Grande has been, or will honor their discounts. We may set up some Crossover classes for those PMC instructors that wish to certify in Art Clay to continue with our discounts. Or not. That isn’t really my concern at the moment.
My biggest concern right now, is the fact that one of 4 MAJOR distributors of silver clay is going out of business. Yes, I know that FYI and other small manufacturers of silver clay are still out there, and this circumstance may be a boon for them. But as I see it, it also shows that we are all vulnerable. Before 2008, when silver clay business saw its first dive in sales (the other was when base metal clays really hit the market) Art Clay World USA was enjoying the hay-day of silver metal clay. The novelty, convenience in use and optimism of this brand new medium was being enjoyed by all distributors and manufacturers.
Circumstances in the intervening 10 years has seen a remarkable decline in sales. And not just for Art Clay World USA. I know that both Aida Chemical Industries and Mitsubishi Materials Corp have seen declining sales the last several years. And, of course, it’s not due to just one event. Metal Clay users have been aging, and the ability for instructors to get younger students invested in silver clay is difficult. This subject was discussed at length at the last Metal Clay Artists Symposium at the Sawtooth School in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
There has been much brainstorming over the last couple of years by all involved in manufacture and distributor of metal clays, base metals included. This medium that I and many other users have devoted ourselves to is a difficult sell to many, and that includes the base metal clays. With the advent of so many small manufacturers of all kinds of metal clays, one of my suggestions was to create a consortium of metal clay manufacturers, to put heads together to come up with a long-term plan to keep this incredible medium viable and devise ways of including other media. But my communication with the major manufacturers has not yielded any results. I know that I represent Aida Chemical Industries, but let’s be honest: the metal clay divisions of the major metal clay manufacturers are not the majority of their interests. If this were Ford, Chevvy, or Chrysler, there would be major investing of money in advertising and other promotions world-wide (or at least in the USA)to keep sales up. We see that every day on TV. But I can guarantee you that not ONE distributor, such as Art Clay World USA, Inc. has the budget for a major on-line or other campaign. Our profit margins are quite small and all of us have had to diversify to include other products in order to keep going.
So, what does PMC Connection’s closing mean for the rest of us? Personally, I wish it would read as a clear signal to both Aida and Mitsubishi that we can’t take this medium for granted and that the Manufacturers have to invest in this medium for the benefit of its Distributors. What happens if Rio Grande decides to cease distributing PMC? The minute it ceases to be a profit maker, you have to believe that Mitsubishi will have a meeting about it. The same with Aida Chemical Industries.
As a distributor and more importantly, an instructor of metal clay, I believe we need to see the closing of PMC Connection as a wake-up call for us to see that we need to work more diligently to maintain the interest and importance of metal clay in our artistry and in our future. If you are an ardent PMC user, switch to Rio Grande instead of walking away from metal clay altogether. If you are an Art Clay or other user, get more involved. Take online courses, involve yourself in the online newsletters. Experiment with combinations of clay or teach more often. WE are the future of metal clay, and it’s up to each of us to protect it from further decline and ambivalence. Remember what it was that excited us about metal clay, and renew that excitement. Talk with others in other media about what metal clay can add to their artistic endeavors. I have always maintained that metal clay wasn’t a fad, but a new and exciting medium that had a bright (no pun intended) future. Please help me to show our fellow artists that the art of metal clay can survive for many generations to come.