Story and Photography by Julia Miller
A leap of faith 20 years ago has propelled Peter’s Pottery into a
well-known business that has helped to put Mound Bayou on the map.
Most towns with a population of less than 1,500 may not see much traffic, but in Mound Bayou, Mississippi, visitors from across the world come to Peter’s Pottery for its renowned Mississippi clay pottery.
Over the past 20 years, it’s not surprising to find the name on wedding registries and Mother’s Day wish lists, and as Peter Woods and his brothers look to the future, they hope they have created something that will only grow in popularity with future generations.
The business has thrived due to two important ideals: family and faith. The Woods brothers – Peter, Joseph, Arthur and Sandy – pooled together all their resources to open their first 1400-square-foot shop in 1998.
“When we first started, it was hard to get a small business loan,” Woods says. “I sold my house, pulled down from my retirement, maxed out my credit cards. We just took a leap of faith.”
They built the first building themselves and invested a lot of sweat equity to make the business happen. Going in, the brothers were realistic about the potential pitfalls of working with family. In the beginning, Woods says they turned to the one thing they knew could get them through anything: their faith in God.
“We prayed to not let any of our disagreements affect any of our business,” Woods says. “The logo is a P with a cross. We wanted God to be with us.”
Unfortunately, the two big obstacles they’ve had to overcome have concerned family, but not in the way they had prepared for. Since Peter’s Pottery opened, the family has lost two siblings, including one of the founders, Arthur.
“My brother died of a massive heart attack. He called himself the creative director,” Woods says. The struggle of grief while having to restructure at work was difficult. Luckily, family came through once again.
Arthur’s son moved back from Hawaii to help realize the dream of his father.
With 12 family members working at Peter’s Pottery, the focus is on ensuring the second generation is equipped for the future.
“We’re training my nieces and nephews because they enjoy doing it,” he says, “We’re making sure they’ll be able to carry the legacy and be able to run the business.”
For Peter’s Pottery, working together as a family has only fueled their success. The collaborative effort helps improve the pottery and give the customers new and exciting products.
“We bounce ideas off of each other, and that gets the creative ball rolling,” he says.
Each year, Peter’s Pottery releases three to four new pieces, but the downside, Woods says, is that also means each year they have to retire pieces.
“That’s really hard,” he says. “And of course, once we retire it, everybody wants it.”
In Woods’ mind, the strength of their foundation can be credited to his parents and the upbringing he and his siblings experienced.
“I’m the baby of 11. They instilled a work ethic from a young age,” he says.
The expectation to work is what led Woods to begin working in pottery at age 13. Working after school and Saturdays, Woods begin to see the beauty of pottery as well as the satisfaction of working hard.
“That was part of our upbringing,” he says. “I’m thankful to them for keeping God first and teaching us to give back.”
Sharing their success with the community has been important for the Woods brothers from the beginning. They even petitioned to be included in the Mound Bayou City limits, so the town would receive the sales tax benefit. In turn, the town received a grant to pave the road and extend water and sewer services to the growing business.
Woods also says they focus on their customers, and the interaction with them helps them continue to be successful
“One of the things I enjoy the most is talking to my customers,” he says. “When they come in, I get ideas.”
Over the years, Woods has been invited to special events, such as weddings, that showcase his work, and that is something very special to experience.
“I make it every day, but we never get to enjoy the work,” he says laughing.
As the 20th anniversary approaches, they are preparing a new design that will represent their years in business and planning a celebration in November. Right now, those plans are still in development, but Woods says they will honor their customers for their impact on the success of Peter’s Pottery throughout the years.
Peter’s Pottery is available at select retailers and online.
peters-pottery.net.Read More in DeSoto Magazine online.