University of Wisconsin-Platteville alumna Beth (Martin) Digman, recently received some very exciting news: her pottery business, Prairie Hills Pottery, will be featured in this year’s Etsy holiday advertising campaign.
The commercial, which highlights one of Digman’s handwritten recipe plates, will air nationwide on cable television and streaming platforms, including Hulu, Nov. 1-Dec. 12. It also will likely run during “Making It,” an Etsy-sponsored show co-hosted by Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman, which will air on NBC in December.
Prairie Hills Pottery creates custom ceramics with personalized images by restoring handwritten recipes, letters and invitations and transferring them onto food-safe, oven-safe and hand-washable dishes. The pieces are often used for weddings, birthdays, housewarmings and holidays.
Digman, who earned a Bachelor of Science in fine arts with an emphasis in art education from UW-Platteville in December 2007, and her family found out the news when an Etsy executive reached out to them in July with the potential opportunity. After many conversations and many samples sent, Etsy notified them Prairie Hills Pottery had been chosen to be featured on air. The opportunity led them to expand their business to a warehouse set up.
“We are so happy about this exciting opportunity,” said Digman, a native of Dodgeville, Wisconsin, now living in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. “We are aware that the opportunity is rare and probably once-in-a-lifetime. While it is stressful, we are doing our best to enjoy the ride.”
Digman built a relationship with Etsy over the last seven years, with the last year or so as a top 1% seller. In the past, she partnered with online advertisement pushes and features on shows such as “Pickler and Ben,” co-hosted by singer Kellie Pickler and journalist Ben Aaron.
“Our consistent growth and reviews are what essentially led us to where we are with Etsy,” explained Digman. “We were really excited to begin the commercial process with them in July.”
Joys, challenges of owning a small business
Digman is a third-generation small business owner. “When I was five years old, I remember my dad going ‘all in’ on his business, which started in the basement and grew into a full-blown production line,” she said. “This has become a full circle moment for me, as now, my own five-year-old is getting to experience that same success in my business.”
Digman loves how her business brings joy to others. “The heart and soul of our company is in the graphic design department,” she said. “We restore handwriting from generations past. Our most common review is that we have left our customers speechless or in tears for restoring the memory of a loved one.”
She also enjoys the flexibility of being her own boss. “I was able to see my two daughters through the baby years, by working from home,” she said. “Now that they are school age, I am able to really reap the rewards and expand the business.”
Digman said her biggest personal reward is that her children have been raised in a small business environment. “They see the hours of work that go into the business and understand the value of a good work ethic,” she said.
The most challenging part about owning her own small business is that much rides on her shoulders. “It’s always a balance of risk and reward – when to push forward and invest in yourself and when to sit back and ride the storms,” she said. “Being able to navigate these moves is what makes or breaks you. I have great hopes for our business in the future. We plan to continue with the year-over-year growth that we have been blessed to see.”
Education at UW-Platteville
Since she was very young, Digman knew she wanted to pursue a career in the arts. After earning a degree from UW-Platteville, she enjoyed five years of teaching in Mineral Point, Wisconsin. Then, at the age of 23, while teaching, she started moonlighting her pottery business out of her parent’s basement. What started as a summer gig quickly grew and, with the support of her husband, she was soon able to work full-time at her pottery business.
When asked what she loved most about UW-Platteville, Digman said, “The people. It truly was a perfect fit for me. I was a small-town girl and I loved how personal and involved I could be at the university.”
Digman credits her education at UW-Platteville for helping prepare her for her careers as a teacher, artist and small business owner.
“Thanks to UW-Platteville’s small class sizes, personal setting and affordability, I was able to capitalize on free tutoring, meeting face-to-face with professors on several occasions, and I got to know so many great people along the way,” she said. “I loved being a name and not a number. The ability to have an affordable education allowed me to invest in myself and my business instead of paying off school loans.”
She noted that hands-on learning opportunities at UW-Platteville helped her feel connected with the school and with others. “I was a high honor student who was a tour guide, dance team member and art club president,” she said. “I feel like I was able to fully immerse into everything the school had to offer. It helped me learn time management and how to step up to a leadership role.”
Impact of late artist and UW-Platteville instructor Bruce Howdle
Digman had special words for one of her art instructors, the late Bruce Howdle (1946-2018), a UW-Platteville alumnus and senior lecturer of art at UW-Platteville from 2005 until his retirement in 2017. A longtime Mineral Point artist, Howdle was well-known for his ceramic and clay sculptures and murals throughout Southwest Wisconsin and beyond.
“Aside from a well-rounded art education, Bruce Howdle did an amazing job of opening his shop to students to get the sales experience that only the real world can teach,” said Digman. “The ‘school of life and hard knocks’ is where you will really learn to fly. You can write all the business plans in the world, but until you learn how to talk to a customer, troubleshoot on the spot and make those tough decisions, it means nothing. Bruce really took pride in preparing his students. He did far more than what his contact required, and I am forever in debt.”
Digman stressed the importance of incorporating art into her daily life.
“Creative thinking can be applied and valued in any career,” she said. “Creative people tend to be problem-solvers, and that is a big asset to bring to the table.
I love creating pottery. It’s my calm and happy place. The creative process is engraved into me.”