Thursday, October 27, 2011

What's really on that price tag?

This week I'd like to go a little more in-depth about pricing, and a little more about a hand-crafter's time.

Pricing is something very difficult for a lot, if not all, of us. We have to judge our pricing not only on our materials, but on our time, the relative economy, what people want, how complex the item is, its purpose, its quality, its ability to become a family heirloom, whether it is custom, or a special order, and the all-important "overhead".

For many, or most of us, this "overhead" can be anything from listing/selling fees, table/booth fees and other show or convention related fees, utility fees for electricity or water, studio rental, tools, equipment, and "other" supplies (for example, I would consider "silver cleaner" an "other supply" as it's only used as a finisher before
my products are photographed and put away until a buyer purchases them - it's not a material replaced every few weeks, or part of the actual jewelry I make).
Shipping and handling are another thing that a lot of people will balk at when they see a "high" price (anything over "free"). My shipping (and handling, as I only have one section for it), comprises actual shipping cost (postage), the cost of the mailer, the cost of the packing (extra bubble wrap/protective foam, etc.), the cost of packaging (the plastic zip-top bags and velveteen/flocked velvet/organza gift-bags I ship all my items with, or gift packaging; gift boxes, gift wrap and ribbon if gift packaging is requested - I do not charge extra for gift packaging, something many of us do - though most tend to charge extra, or even often have gift packaging in a seperate listing which incurs its own overhead costs), and of course my gas/car wear to get to and from town to ship the item from the post office, and also the time taken to stand in line at the post office. For international shipping, this cost also includes all customs forms, and so is higher.

Some people choose to include packaging as part of their item cost, and some choose to include it as part of their shipping cost to make shipping cost "appear" lower, even though that cost has only been transferred to the item cost, and is left out of shipping. That shipping and handling cost IS in there, visible or not.
One of the things most buyers do not take into account is the time taken to create an item. Even after the original design is made, if the item is duplicatable, such as my typical design of bracelet or my simple earrings, time WAS taken to design that item. Whether it took 20 minutes or 2-3 hours to trial-and-error design that FIRST item, time WAS taken to DESIGN. That shouldn't be tossed out the window when more of them are made, no matter how simple or complex the design. I might whip out a bracelet in more-or-less half an hour or so, but that original design took me 10-15 trial-and-error runs to make, disassemble and re-make until I liked the arrangement and decided it to be my main design. More complex items, such as my new line of earwraps and earcuffs, take a lot MORE time, and alot more trial-and-error, and many discards before I am satisfied with the item I present to the public. There's no need for someone to see the pile of twisted wire, the mess of cracked or broken crystal, or the clippings of said mess it took to disassemble a reject. UNLESS, that is, someone wants to see the actual process and a time-elapse to find out if said product is really worth its price. Most artists can't stand to show discards or rejects; it's just not how it works. That discard pile is always a lot more than most people think. Cracked pottery that didn't make it through the kiln, glass that shattered when fired, glazes that didn't set right, polymer clay that crumbled when fired, wood that cracked or split as it was nailed into place, glue that oozed and couldn't be sanded away all factor into the design process. VERY few products are perfection on the first try, and usually that product is not even to the satisfaction of the artist.

Custom and special order products are especially prone to this trial-and-error process; since they are specially ordered or custom items, the artist tends to demand absolute perfection. I know I do. I worry every time I make a slave-bracelet that it won't fit JUST right. My father worried that a certain type of book wouldn't fit into his shelves even after careful measuring, re-measuring and testing before final assembly. That vase might be just too short or too tall for the flowers it was meant for. Customer communication is key here, and many if not all artists working on a custom item will constantly ask little detailed questions that might seem "pestering", but will ultimately result in THE product that customer asked for.

Quotes are often given to a customer, but that customer must know that a quote is never a final price. Sometimes, the actual cost is lower, sometimes higher, depending on the final product. That seems like common sense, but often, it is not. I have had customers balk at a final cost, when a design took longer, required adjustments, or required more materials to do just what they wanted - though I have not yet (*knocks on wood*) had a customer NOT purchase the item they requested, and so far I have had positive reaction. This, sadly, is not always the case. Too many people focus on that quote, or the price of an item, and not its quality, or the time it took to create, or the materials, or any of the other costs involved to make an item tailored just for them.

Another hard to price category is the One-of-a-Kind. These items can be anything from simple to complicated to intricate to a fluke one-shot that was a first-try item that isn't what the desired effect was, but passes the quality-check to present to the public. Most of the time, an item that is OOAK is either extremely complicated, something that was designed to never be reproduced (or that can never be reproduced exactly), or something made of a limited-supply or limited-edition material. Since these items are the only one, their price is going to be higher than most other items of their type. A knitter might make a sweater with a fluke-pattern that looks awesome, and may never be able to knit it again. Since they can not reproduce the fluke, mistake, or whathaveyou that made that pattern, it is one-of-a-kind, while the same knitter may use a fade or gradient-color yarn on multiple sweaters producing different patterns of color; the same sweater, same knitting-pattern, same technique, etc., but each sweater is unique and could be called one-of-a-kind, provided that no two of those same-yarn sweaters look alike. To make myself an example again, my new line of earwraps and earcuffs are one-of-a-kind - at least the Elemental Series. I may make them again, but I will never use the same bead-weaving pattern, or the same wire-wrapping pattern. I might make it sort-of-kind-of close, but I will never be able to reproduce them, and to be honest, I will never try. I may use similar color schemes and general idea, yes, but they will never be the same. Each piece I make, no matter what it is, will always be unique since uniformity is always a question, but some of them are easily reproduced - like my earlier example of my most simple earrings and bracelets - they will not be one-of-a-kind. The earwraps/cuffs? I'll have very few of those that I could reproduce step-by-step, if any, including very simple ones. The ones that have the possibility of being made again will be, of course, a lower price than the ones there are only ONE of. Since OOAKs are so unique, they are VERY hard to price sometimes. Sometimes, in cases where a normal item becomes a fluke, the price may just go up a little, or not change. Where it's intentional, it becomes a little harder.

Most of the time, a buyer really doesn't look at these factors when they see a price tag. They see only the price tag and think it's "too high" and often "outrageous" for a "small" or "simple" item. So little consideration is given to the work, the nature, or the history of the item they so flippantly deem overpriced.
Too often, a seller of hand-crafted items takes nearly as long to work out a pricing formula and a final price for their work as the piece they're pricing took to create. Since there is no One Solid Formula for every item, every crafter, every venue, and no universal calculator, there is no real way to compare two artists or two items. I have been to conventions/shows where I have been told that someone "over there" is selling the exact same thing I am, and is only charging half the price. At one event, I went over to talk to that someone "over there", since I often look for others selling items similar to mine to connect, share techniques or even just to chat. It turned out that someone "over there" used craft-wire and glass or plastic beads, not Sterling Silver and Swarovski Crystal. Said someone "over there" complimented my work, and promptly requested several of my unique pieces, lamenting that she could never create the same things, though her bracelet style was vaguely similar to mine, and she had only started making/selling her work that very event, where that event had been in my second or third year selling.

Not everyone is unable to tell the difference in materials, but even when that someone "over there" told people it was craft wire and glass or plastic, and my signage clearly states which of my items are silver-plated or Sterling Silver, I still had people telling me that my items were too high priced, and that they could get their stuff cheaper "over there". The most a seller can do in that situation is shrug and inwardly shake their heads, and move on to the next potential customer. But no matter how many times we shrug and shake our heads, that comment stings, if only for a few minutes, particularly when in your mind you wonder "you'd rather pay half the price "over there" or at a mall or large store for craft wire and cheap glass or plastic instead of paying the price here for actual Sterling Silver and crystal...?" Or, as I've mentioned, pay about the same price for particleboard or plywood instead of solid wood, or for wire mesh and cheap clay instead of polished pottery or porcelain?

It all ties into the Big Box Mentality I mentioned in September. Buyers will go out of their way to spend money at large stores, thinking they're getting something far better quality for a mass-produced item rather than spending a little more and getting something that is uniqe or even One-of-a-Kind.
This entry will be in two parts; that whole life thing shorted me a bit on time to select items to post. The second part of this entry will come in the next day or two, and will have those items, and the shops and people who brought them to light.


A Crafty Arab said...

Hi from Zibbet. Love your blog! So much information :)

Kalla said...

Thanks, Kay!

I personally got tired of people telling me my hard work is handmade junk that "a child can do" or that crafts are only for children and old grannies. I resent comments that tell me I overprice something I spent hours on, something I use high quality materials on, and I'm actually pricing my things lower than they SHOULD be and not giving myself the credit I deserve. Hopefully this blog will start educating people that hand-crafted work isn't junk, and is much better quality than people think.

Thank you so much for your comment, and your compliments and your support!