11 July 2011

the lost art of pricing

Back in the day we were given an assignment on production work. We were set loose with the project of designing and fabricating work that could be made quickly, further reproduced into matching sets and sold cheaply. Most of us were working with silver, not a cheap material, and this was the first time we were making these pieces so our fabrication time was, well, timely. With a mere two years under our belts there were many things to master and everything we made took time. We weren't really given much to go with but new techniques to learn to make reproduction "faster". Looking back I think it would have been beneficial to look deep into the consumer culture and take examples from artists who were succeeding at making a living in this realm of work. (Please note, I said artists, not big box stores. An example is shown below.)

yellow gold ring by Barbara Heinrich Studio
The only thing I took away from this project was the pricing equation. We were told that most artists make three times materials plus their hourly wage (this hourly wage was left undefined). Now that I am doing this full time I realize that when one breaks down the materials we often leave out many key items for instance, packaging, shipping materials, advertising materials, electricity, rent and other overhead are often not part of this equation. And when calculating our hourly wage we often leave out the time we spend packaging, shipping, selling and promoting our work. If you are like me and try to tally your time up and when it comes to paying yourself you think 'well, I could work faster' and you calculate how long it would take you to make the piece after ten shots of espresso. All this just to make your piece a cost comparison to something from Target.

forget-me-not post earrings by k.o'brien jewelry
But we do this because we love it right? 
But would we work this hard punching a time card for someone else?

All of these thoughts surfaced upon reading this post by up up creative. Why is it that artists and crafters need to fit into this market of being more affordable than chain stores? It's true, we may not have the same overhead but we don't have as many hands helping and we certainly don't have the machines to make things for us. I would like to remind you that there are stores out there that have a name for themselves and no one would squawk at the prices set my them. You can either afford their product or you can't. Customers don't try and negotiate by asking "how much for the earrings and the necklace to match" at the register. There are certain stores that have folks clipping coupons and scanning discount cards but these aren't the stores we should be competing with. We should be just as valued if not more so than the high end stores. Stores where quality is supposed to matter. Isn't that what you are looking for after all when you buy handmade? If not, quality should be on your list. In fact, let's have it replace barter. 

tiffany & co. ring

To put this in perspective, we are working for likely less than when we were punching a clock and without benefits. No paid vacation or sick time and no aid with health insurance and certainly no overtime. But we do this because we love what we do, we need to do what we do. Because of this passion we don't need to do without. We need to educate our consumers, we need to not settle for a deal to make a sale. 

I find it ironic that in a time when Fair Trade is hugely popular I am constantly being asked why my prices are so high. I would venture to guess that most shoppers who attend farmer's markets or craft fairs proudly purchase Fair Trade items when they can. I bet they also don't like to purchase items made in sweat shops. And I can surely bet they are against child labor. But these same folks can walk into my tent and ask why my jewelry isn't cheaper because handmade is suppose to be cheaper. I guess I can starve but the harvester of their coffee beans needs a better living. (This is not at all to say I am not for Fair Trade, I am. It is just to give a comparison. Getting people to support Fair Trade took time and education, just like the handmade movement needs to do for their customers.)

my craft fair setup

And who is to blame for this? I say it's the hobbyist. The person who sits at home in no need of another job and makes things in their spare time. The person who doesn't have any need to be compensated for their time, just their materials. The person who offers discounts on their handmade items. They may be making stuff because they love what they are doing but they don't need to make stuff. They don't have training other than craft circles or a few classes. They show up on online marketplaces making the same thing as you and I and cut the price down to nearly giving the item away just to make a sale. Adding salt to the wound they give us another place to look at to see how our prices compare. I hope to educate the consumer to go right past these shops, providing no fuel for the fire. In my world when a customer asks a price on a craft and the maker says "well the sale is almost over so instead of $40 I can do $20" the customer walks out of their tent in search for a real crafter. 

what are your thoughts on the art of pricing? have we lost our focus and are just trying to make a sale?


  1. I agree 100% that we need not try to match Target prices and crafters should be paid fairly for their work. I do take a bit of exception to your comment about hobbyists. It's always dangerous to make broad statements because they usually only apply to a small percentage of people. I would consider myself a hobbyist as I do not make my living on my craft -- I have a full time job and do this on the side. That being said, I expect to be paid fairly for my work and do not give my product away. If I do choose to give a special price (for any number of reasons), that is my prerogative. It's no different than any retail sales outlet that runs a sale to either boost sales or clear out old inventory.

    I am in complete agreement that buyers are misguided in their perception of hand made goods but it is not the hobbyist who is to blame. Most people know that you get what you pay for and if someone can sell something at 1/2 the price, it probably means inferior workmanship, inferior materials, or the vendor is desperate to make a sale. It's a tough world out there and you've got to be prepared to deal with all kinds of buyers and discount seekers. In today's economy, most people look for deals wherever they can find them.

  2. I tried to specifically aim my blame at folks who do this as a hobby and don't care about being compensated for their time. If you are being paid fairly for your efforts then I would consider your craft to be a part-time job and not a hobby. And I thank you for not giving away your spare time. It is precious and your efforts should be paid for.
    As far as sales and promotions go I don't believe in putting handmade items on sale. That is just my belief. Items can be on clearance because they are no longer being fabricated, that makes perfect sense. But I don't believe in cutting into the profit on an item which is fairly priced for the sake of getting items to move.
    My aim here to to try and get less and less folks asking for discounts by educating them. They need to learn that there is a place for that behavior and it isn't under a craft fair tent.

  3. Most people have no clue how much work goes into making an item. Case in point, I am a Costume Designer. I had a client who wanted 2 Animae costumes doen in 3 weeks time. As in corsets, petticoats, skirts and jackets. Two days before the agreed upon delivery date, I got "can you add a peplum to corset and Epaluettes to the jacket?" That added 3 hours to my work time with no up charge paid. So, pricing is a tricky thing. YOUR TIME IS VALUABLE. Your time spent musing on a design is valuable. Treat it as the commodity it should be. And try to gently educate your customers as best you can.

  4. I am new to selling my artwork. That said, I am working my BEHIND off making things and trying to get my name out there, but it seems like nothing sells (even though I get great feedback). I am desperate for money to recoup what I have in materials currently, that I sell low on the finished products I have in order to get more materials. It is frustrating to me to sell items that I know have hours of work (20 hours on a single polymer clay cane), and then to practically give it away.

    Any tips for a new artist would be welcome.


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thanks for reading!