- Business & Development
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- Entrepreneur Highlight: Chris Pence
Entrepreneur Highlight: Chris Pence
City of Burlington
Economic Development Office
October 5, 2022
In a world where automation is exciting, industries are booming, and business runs on efficiency, one big question shaped this business – “What is the relevancy of handmade pottery in a mechanized world?” Haand is a Burlington-based porcelain pottery company celebrating its 10 year anniversary and was founded by high school friends Chris Pence and Mark Warren. For Chris, Haand was an opportunity to apply his skillset to a business he was truly passionate about – enough to get his hands on.
From Passion to Project
Chris and Mark have been friends since 1999. When talking to Chris about where the idea for Haand started, much of the conversation started around the love of pottery, which is clearly seen in the work. Pottery was a hobby for Chris growing up, but he started his professional journey in corporate accounting, having studied business and accounting in college and graduate school. He worked in corporate accounting for 10 years, until it was time for a change. “I did the math once and discovered I had worked 52 80-hour weeks,” Chris reflected. “I decided I didn’t want to do that anymore.” Around the same time, Mark attended the Penland School of Crafts after college, completing a two-year fellowship in ceramics. After leaving the accounting firm, the two friends reconnected and decided to pursue pottery as an entrepreneurial opportunity.
Though both individuals had been in the pottery world for years, Mark’s experience differed from Chris, which introduced new avenues for design and technology in handmade pottery. As the business began to take form, the first two years took place in an old farmhouse in Durham – with no potable water, no air conditioning, and a monthly rent of $60. The pair went to trade shows and craft fairs to advocate for their product, working hard to establish themselves within the profession, and were able to move to a warehouse in Eli Whitney, North Carolina. Today, the company operates out of a former hosiery mill in downtown Burlington, North Carolina, with 27 employees.
The idea for the company name came from the nature of the business – no matter what kind of pottery it is, at its core it is handmade. In the 21st century, craftmanship is a unique trade, and as such Chris and Mark knew they had their work cut out for them. “Haand” is an archaic spelling of “hand” that originated from Norway but is a form of the word we know today.
As business continued to grow, so did their reach. In 2014, Haand was able to obtain contracts with local restaurants and partners within the hospitality industry, and now produces unique pieces featured by businesses around the world. Chris manages the business and accounting for the company, whereas Mark is involved in the design and production process. Though the essential design is based in Scandinavian pottery, some inspiration also comes from Japanese pottery. The materials used for the porcelain have been carefully selected to produce safe and ethically sourced products, as well as the glazes being formulated in-studio. Everything from mugs to plates, vases to bowls, are made in one facility, using slip casting as the main form of production.
Slip casting is a form of pottery that uses plaster molds – the liquid porcelain is poured into the mold, where it dries into the models designed and carved by Mark. This technique is used for shapes that are not easily made on a pottery wheel, which allows for intricate designs and projects at a higher rate of production. Each piece is then fired in a kiln and dipped in glaze multiple times, giving it the glossy and colored finish that the company is known for. And of course, on the bottom of every piece, “Haand: Made in NC” is stamped.
The company now works with more than 157 restaurants, as well as different aspects of the hospitality industry, such as hotels, resorts, conferences, and more. By traveling to different trade shows – not just in the U.S., but around the world – Haand now services companies from Raleigh, Los Angeles, Australia, New Zealand, Dubai, and Qatar, and parts of Europe, just to name a few. By creating a product that is modern and different from other North Carolina pottery – and doing so in a way that can meet the demand of an industry racing to recover from the pandemic, Haand has truly succeeded in making a name for itself.
When asked what project was most exciting, Chris cited the recent collaboration with Vivian Howard, a North Carolina Chef, restauranteur, author, and television host of A Chef’s Life on PBS. Chef Howard had been an early collector of Haand dishes and wanted to use the plates and serving pieces for the pictures in her publication This Will Make It Taste Good, which came out in 2020. Since then, a full line of dishware was curated by the chef and Haand, all of which have been performance tested at Vivan’s Lenoir Restaurant in Charleston, SC. The collection is centered on sustainability, versatility in use, and mutual respect for the work each has done over the years. As stated on the website, “Both of our organizations integrate sustainability into our businesses, and we want to highlight something in this collaboration that can often be overlooked: buying a well-made object with the intention of passing it on to the next generation can have a profound impact on your carbon footprint.”
Chris and Mark have seen Haand through many trials, including a major impact from the COVID-19 pandemic. When the world came to a standstill, the hospitality industry took a major hit – and with that, Haand lost almost 80% of its customers. Their showroom, which had opened in the fall of 2019, had to be closed to the public due to safety restrictions. Now, three years later, Haand is looking forward to opening its doors again. Starting on October 1st, the showroom will be available for public viewing.
From an old farmhouse to a downtown business, 10 years has done the business well. It is inspiring how the pair of friends have been able to see each other through it all and have created a space where they can be creative, innovative, and continue to do what they truly love. Inspiration comes in many forms – whether from the sky (as can be seen in their Cloudware and Stormware products) or from the sea (in the Ripple collection), Haand has a decade of experience on their – well, hands!
Be sure to check our products, either in the showroom or online, and add something to your own collection!
Chris Pence, MPH BS
Phone (336) 350-7957
Facebook @Haand-Porcelain Tableware
Isabella DeLaGarza, EYOS Fellow
425 S. Lexington Ave.
Burlington, NC 27215