Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Paying for Handmade: A Gentle Rant

My display At Gather Here's Handmade Holiday show 2012

I've been thinking lately about pricing for handmade goods. It's so tricky, one of the hardest things to calculate for makers and the first question they ask every handmade selling guru. There are so many factors to consider: material costs, labor, what is an original idea worth? My life experience and skill levels should count for something too, right? And then a maker has to consider what the market will bear. An item might be in high demand at $10 where sales will cease at $15. But what if you can't afford to make it for less than $15 retail? Then I guess that item can't be in your product line no matter how much you like making it. Some makers offer wholesale and/or consign with shops. They need to make their profit at what is often 50% of retail cost, that changes everything. Some items sell well at higher prices in established shops and galleries but then you take them to a show and no-one will touch them for the same price buying directly from you, it's all about context. But you can't undercut your shops. So some items you sell to/through shops and some you can't afford to.

This leads me to thinking about people who ask makers for discounts. I'll speak from my own experience here. NO-ONE NEEDS MY THINGS. Seriously, there is no medical emergency that requires a Sleepy Sheep ornament. People won't starve without cupcake pincushions. My items are little luxuries. Now it has been my experience that people who own my items find they have an increase in joy and well-being in their lives, and that should not be downplayed. There is value in what I make, but I'm not fulfilling basic needs. I see all kinds of amazing things my maker friends have created and I have coveted them HARD without being able to afford them. It's painful! I get that. There it is, an amazing, well-made thing that sings to my heart! But it is out of my price range. It doesn't feel good. But that doesn't mean it's not priced correctly. It's not too expensive, it's just too expensive for ME. It turns out I have excellent taste :)

Jammed at SOWA Holiday show 2012
Recently, at a holiday craft show, a potential customer asked if I would take $36 for two cupcake ornaments (which retail at $22 each). The previous night flashed in my mind: midnight after day one of a busy show. I had worked a week of 15 hour days to make enough inventory, gotten up at 5 AM to set up in this space, stood all day sneaking in food and bathroom breaks, now I was going to bed, hands and back sore, and I was weepy because I had only managed to make 4 more of my best seller cupcake ornaments and I feared I would be understocked for day two.

Completely stressed out in my studio

Let me be clear: I understand that I live an amazing life. A dream life for many, including me! I could not feel more grateful to be able to make and sell things for a living. But that doesn't mean it's easy. My biggest fear is being understocked after paying $450 to participate in a show. A holiday show like this is a great opportunity at the only time of year when people really buy my goods in volume. I don't sell a lot of wool items in August, you know? I never want to leave "money on the table" by not making enough of what will turn out to be best-sellers in the colors people will want. But I can never predict what those items will be! It's different from show to show, even year to year at the same show. The pressure to produce enough is intense, to fully stock each item in my (admittedly too large) product line.

Mini cupcake ornaments
So all that flashed through my head as the woman held the two cupcake ornaments and waited for my answer. I leaned in and smiled warmly. I said "I can't," (I never apologize when I am not actually sorry) "those are my best sellers." She looked a bit shocked. Put them back and walked away. Which is fine! That's how that goes. The very next customer bought two and was delighted to do so at full price. He said "These are fantastic! We just got our first tree and these will be the first ornaments we put on it." I did not jump over the table and hug him, but I did consider it.

I guess the point is, I do not work in volume. I take my time carefully constructing each of my items. I specifically designed them to take time to create. I pride myself on my careful workmanship and consistency, These things take as long as they take and I can't speed up the process. I'm not going to ever hire anyone to help. I'm always going to be part of the slow craft movement. I rarely have overstock of something I accidentally overproduced that I need to move out of inventory. I rarely have discounts or sales on anything. Occasionally I'll mark an item down if it's discontinued and I have like, 3 left. Recently I lowered the price on my egg ornaments because they weren't selling at the price I needed to charge to offer them to shops. At this new, lower price I won't sell them wholesale or put them on consignment, I'll just offer them in my studio, at shows, and online at the new retail price. I did that because I enjoy making them and want to keep doing it.

Polymer clay egg ornaments
At this weekend's show a woman asked if I would give her a "two for" price on my $14 bobby pins. She said she "needed" two but that would be $28 and more than she wanted to spend. See what she did there? She was wrong about needing them. I'm sure she figured, like most folks, that "It couldn't hurt to ask!" but that's wrong too, it does hurt. It hurts my feelings, it hurts the handmade community, it hurts handmade as a movement in general.

Hand felted nest bobby pins

We are all running businesses that need to profit to continue to exist. You do not have to buy anything we make! But when you do, you support an idea, a lifestyle, art. You encourage the production of objects that hold love, thought, care. You pass that joy onto the people who receive your gifts. You infuse your home with warmth and meaning when you hang that art on your wall or drink out of that hand-thrown mug. You perpetuate a world where objects exist that weren't made by underpaid workers in third world countries to line the pockets of corporate CEOs. You encouraged an artist to sing her song and that enriches everyone.

Well, I don't have to tell you. You know all this. But there are people out there who don't. I don't think it's their fault really. I think they were indoctrinated in Target and WalMart culture because those corporations have very loud voices. Even though I have been a maker all my life, I didn't start to feel queasy about buying mass-produced things until I really got into selling on Etsy and meeting other makers in the community. Of course I'm not out buying artisanal washing machines, I still shop from corporations. But not gifts. I try to make or buy handmade for giving.

This morning another Etsy seller, a newbie with three sales in her cute shop, praised my pincushion rings and asked if I would knock the price down if she bought two or three. I've been working on a response that is warm but firm. I like to be professional. I like to educate and mentor. I think I'll say this to her:

"Hello! Thanks for your kind words about my pincushion rings. I do not offer discounts on multiple purchases. As a maker yourself I know you understand the time and care that goes into each item we produce. Anything you order from me I will make specifically for you, package it sweetly, and get it in the mail to you without delay! I hope you are having a great holiday season.

Warm regards,

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Makers in Business Episode 8 - Danielle Spurge of The Merriweather Council

In this episode of Makers in Business I talk with Danielle Spurge of The Merriweather Council about how she started her embroidery business and what it's been like since she did.

If you are an Etsy fan, you may recognize Danielle's work as she is frequently featured on the front page. Danielle has worked hard for her success so far and continues to work hard to keep the momentum going. Meanwhile, she's generous in sharing what she's learned. She's been trained as an official Etsy Educator. If you live locally, look for her classes on maximizing the potential of your Etsy shop. And for gorgeous handmade goods, visit her website.

The audio-only version of this program is available on iTunes (please subscribe!) or here:

Here's the custom hoop Danielle stitched for me.

The hoops look fantastic in groupings. (I own three!)

I love Danielle's compositions.

Danielle's signature wishbone design.

Custom table numbers for a wedding.

Custom monogram necklaces in Danielle's own "font" which is her handwriting.

The show airs locally in Lowell on LTC Comcast Channel 8 on Tuesdays at 6:30 PM and Thursdays at 8:30. New shows monthly. For more information about Lowell Local Access TV, visit http://LTC.org

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Makers in Business Episode 7 - Akshata Nayak of The Orange Owl

I am so delighted to present Episode 7 of Makers in Business, my local access TV interview show where we discuss the business side of creativity.

I met Akshata at a craft show in 2011 and blogged about her and her business here on the blog. I've always found her products delightful and her story fascinating and I hope you do too! Click the picture below to go to the Vimeo page with the video.

Here is the link to the audio only version of the show: Audio only link on Podbean

Or subscribe to the audio only as a podcast on iTunes!

The show airs locally in Lowell on LTC Comcast Channel 8 on Tuesdays at 6:30 PM and Thursdays at 8:30. New shows monthly. For more information about Lowell Local Access TV, visit http://LTC.org

 Please find The Orange Owl online here: The Orange Owl

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

By Hand Magazine

I am so excited to have an item featured in a brand new Magazine called By Hand. I think you will love it!! Check it out:

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Makers in Business Episode 6 - JJ Long of JJ Artworks

New episode of Makers in Business now available! Click the image above to view it on my Vimeo channel. This month I interviewed JJ Long of JJ Artworks about being a fine art painter and the special challenges that represents to a maker in business. I hope you love our chat as much as I did!

Here's a link to the audio only version, (you can also subscribe to the podcast on iTunes)
Audio only of Episode 6

 Find JJ on the Web: http://jjartworks.com

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Makers in Business Episode 5 - Sweet Lydia's

The new episode of Makers in Business is now available! Comcast subscribers in Lowell, MA can watch on LTC Channel 8 Tuesdays at 6:30 PM and Thursdays at 8:30. For viewers outside the area I've set up a Vimeo site to host the videos so you can view them right here on the blog, just click to play below, or click the link below the player to watch it larger on the Vimeo page.

Makers In Business episode 5 Sweet Lydia's from Liz Smith on Vimeo.

Lydia and I shared a fantastic discussion about the particulars of being a maker of edibles. She really knows her numbers and is a great inspiration to anyone hoping to go as far as possible in their chosen craft.

Find Lydia online: http://sweetlydias.com/ Her site includes a schedule where you can find where she's selling at shows/markets around the area!

The iTunes podcast should update soon. A page for just the audio file online is here:

And visit my Vimeo page to view all the episodes of Makers in Business!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Makers in Business Episode 4 - Peter Zimmerman Designs in Glass

In Episode 4 of Makers in Business I talk with Peter Zimmerman of Peter Zimmerman Designs in Glass about running a creative business using a skill that requires apprenticeship as well as special equipment. Peter didn't start out blowing glass at the kitchen table the way a lot of us start with our media. And it wasn't a skill passed down in his family either. Watch the video to learn more about how he learned to do what he does and what it was like along the way!

Click this pic to watch the video!

Check out Peter's Website here:

Click over here for an audio only version of the show. 

And here's the link to subscribe to the audio-only Podcast of Makers in business on iTunes:

The show airs locally on Tuesdays at 6:30 PM and Thursdays at 8:30. New shows monthly. For more information about Lowell Local Access TV, visit http://LTC.org

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Surviving a bad craft show

Me in the early days of vending, hi mom!
I've been doing craft shows since the late 80s. I remember one of my first, perhaps my very first, was a flea market in Aquinnah (then called Gay Head) on Martha’s Vineyard. I was probably still a teenager. I set up a little 3 foot card table with my polymer clay jewelry in an old white building (Town Hall? Church?) and waited. While it was summer, height of the season on the vacation destination of Martha’s Vineyard Island off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the town of Aquinnah is not in the thick of the summertime bustle. It’s at the far tip of the Island and though people do flock there to experience Wampanoag culture and see the spectacular clay cliffs that run down to the beautiful beach, not many stopped by a modest indoor flea market on that day. I was at least able to eke out my table fee when other vendors kindly bought a few items from me. I can’t say I wasn’t discouraged but that obviously did not stop me.

Making inventory
Craft shows are a gamble, an exciting and potentially lucrative gamble. There’s no better high I know of in my job as a maker than setting up at a show and finding that all the people looking at your work want to become customers. A crazy-good, or even a moderately good show can boost your spirits tremendously. Not only do you suddenly have a wad of working capital in your pocket, you’ve been looking all day at the smiling faces of people who are telling you your work is lovely and worth money! It’s fantastic. All your incredibly hard work has paid off. Your late nights of frantic making, your tedious repetitive tasks, your careful labeling, your thoughtful packaging, your schlepping. All of it rewarded.

So when a craft show is a bust? Not only are your booth fee and hours of your life gone, a bad show can deflate you so fast that it’s hard to remember that it’s not the end of your business. It’s likely not even a comment on you or your work, it’s probably just that your people did not show up. Sometimes that’s because NO people showed up. You can tell that’s the case if other vendors also say the show is lame for them. But if other people are doing fine all around you? That likely means your people are not in this crowd.

That happened to me this past weekend.

In 2008 I applied for the first time to vend in the newish craft show, Art in the Courtyard. It’s a show that runs as part of the Lowell Folk Festival, the largest free folk festival in the nation. Every year the Folk Fest takes over downtown Lowell, MA. The streets are shut down as tents are erected and food vendors set up carts. It’s a wild, fun weekend and thousands of people from all over stream through the city to hear music and eat meat on a stick. Art in the Courtyard is in a great location between a major road and the dance pavilion and food tents. There aren’t many craft/art vendors, maybe 20-25. People who love music of all nations also generally appreciate handmade, it’s a great opportunity. For 4 years I juried in and did super at this show. I especially love that it’s within walking distance of my condo!

Folk Fest 2008
This year I applied but I did not get in. I was shocked and disappointed, but I understand what a juried show means, not everyone who applies gets chosen. I was, however, put on the wait list. I didn’t have too many hopes of getting in but I started making inventory anyway. A week after my rejection I was told there was a cancellation and would I like to vend? Would I?! I was jubilant. This show has historically been excellent for me and provided the money I need to pay for expensive holiday booth fees which are typically due in the summer when makers’ coffers are very low.

My booth this year

Closer up

From behind the table
Saturday is usually the biggest day of the weekend for me and I liked my location. Rain was possible but it didn’t rain for most of the day. Whether it was the gloomy forecast or a new summer music festival that started up in Boston on the same weekend, there just didn’t seem to be the volume of people I’d seen in years past.

My sales were sparse. It feels so baffling while it is happening. And you can start to feel really bad about what you are offering for sale. And the sinking feeling you experience when it becomes clear that each sale will be hard fought for and rare is just so dispiriting. You try not to indulge in fantasies, but your expectations can get so high ahead of a show.

I know other vendors weren’t having super days but they didn’t seem to be having the awful day I was. I tried to puzzle out why. The main thing was I just didn’t see as many of my right people in the crowd. These folks who did show up loved music and exotic foods, but they were not into me at all. I also think my product line has been the same for a long time so the people who love my work and stopped by to say hello didn’t see anything new to get them excited. And maybe I just didn't have enough products in general.

In the end I managed to keep my spirits up because I’ve been in this game a long time and I know not every show is a winner. Sure I felt bruised. You work just as hard for a bad payday as a good one and it’s very hard work. I really liked my show neighbors, super guys with great attitudes who were fun to joke with. I find a multiple day show engenders a bit of backstage camaraderie that I love.

Some specific things I do to keep my head up when a show is not going well:

1.) Smile and be cheerful and relaxed toward everyone who enters your booth, tell them you are doing great when they ask. It will absolutely not help to appear desperate or grumpy.  (Of course you can vent quietly to friends and fellow makers so you don’t go insane, but try not to broadcast it.)

2.) Remind yourself over and over that your people did not come to this show. Does your work sell well elsewhere? Online? In shops? Then you have right people, they just didn’t shop at this show. Or at least not this year. Or this isn’t the right season for your goods.

Note: If you hate doing shows you will probably not do well at them. But that’s OK, you don’t have to do them at all! It’s not a requirement. If you are just new to shows and don’t hate them, keep going, you’ll get better at selling your work in person over time, especially if you watch seasoned sellers at work and learn from them. If your work doesn’t sell well anywhere then you probably need to reassess your product line and marketing/branding.

3.) Take a look at all that inventory you built up! Yay, you can still sell it; send it to your consignment shops, try to get wholesale orders, stock your online shop, or just be ready for the next show.

4.) Drink. I’m sort of kidding. (But not really). What I mean is, do something nice for yourself afterwards. Take a night off you workaholic! Take a bath, play video games, read a book, whatever it takes to relax and recharge. Get some hugs if you can. If you can’t get them in person collect them online, those work too. Tomorrow you can unpack and reassess. Plan your next move. Use the experience to spur you to make changes, up your game. That’s what I’m doing! I’m speeding up development of new products. My next show is in November and I am going to kick ass!

But if I don’t, I know how to handle it.


Friday, July 6, 2012

Makers in Business Episode 3 - Liz Stewart of Lush Beads

The Lizzes

In Episode 3 of Makers in Business I talk with Liz Stewart of Lush Beads. Liz and I have been friends since I introduced myself to her when she opened a retail bead supply shop on Merrimack Street in downtown Lowell, MA.

Our lively conversation covers how she got started in the business and the choices and challenges she's faced as an independent shop owner and maker.

Please check out Liz's website and visit her shop when you are in town!

Here's a link to the online Audio only version:

And here's the link to subscribe to the audio-only Podcast of Makers in business on iTunes:

The show airs locally on Tuesdays at 6:30 PM and Thursdays at 8:30. New shows monthly. For more information about Lowell Local Access TV, visit http://LTC.org

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Makers in Business Episode 2 - eyeformation studio

The latest episode of my local access TV interview show is up! This month I interviewed Frank Casazza of eyeformation studio. Click here for an online video player:
Makers in Business Episode 2 eyeformation studio

Frank is an amazing artist and I think you will love getting to hear more about how he runs his one man business. Check out his website here: http://eyeformation.net 

For the audio-only version, click here:
Makers in Business Ep 002 Audio Only

Images by eyformation studio:

The show airs locally on Tuesdays at 6:30 PM and Thursdays at 8:30. New shows monthly. For more information about Lowell Local Access TV, visit http://LTC.org

Links discussed in the show: