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