Pricing my work
I wanted to write briefly about how I price my work, since various craftspeople have commented that my prices seem ridiculously low. Pricing is deeply personal, so if you are reading this and disagree, please don't think that I am implying that you need to or ought to do something differently. We all do want we think is best, and we all will change our strategies and prices many times over the years.
My own history with pricing comes from being a farmer. This is a different mindset than many craftspeople have, since farmers all recognize that prices fluctuate with timing and quality and markets that have nothing directly to do with you and what you are selling. You simply react. There seems to be a mindset in the crafts community to price based on time and materials, which has led, I believe, to the increase in wooden spoon prices we have seen in the last year or two. If it takes you two hours to carve a spoon, then it is worth two hours of your labor, plus a little to cover tangential costs, right?
I think this is misleading, because the price is always an agreement between you and someone buying. You can set the price at whatever you want, but if it is so high that nobody or only a few people want to buy, then clearly the price the market wants to pay is out of alignment with what you want to earn. You can address this several ways, and the smart things is to try to skew all of these factors in your favor. You can lower your price; you can reduce the time or other costs involved in making the object; you can also increase the perceived value of buying from you (notice that certain master spooncarvers have no trouble selling lots of spoons that maybe are no better than yours but at a price the same or much higher? That's because there is a perceived value to buying from them. This is something they have earned through smart moves and putting in the time).
I used to sell at a comparable pricepoint to everyone else, but quite frankly no one was buying and looking back, I don't blame them. A spoon has to be pretty damn amazing to be worth $25 when you have a mortgage and kids and all the expenses of adulthood. I don't want to carve spoons for rich people (although I don't have a problem with selling to them). I want to carve spoons for EVERYONE. Including my neighbors, who I was too embarrassed to tell what I was charging. There's a sign right there that you are charging too much, when you find yourself defending the price. The thing should be priced so as to need no explanation.
Anyway, I found that by selling at a reasonable price, spoons are now moving off the shelf so fast that I basically never have any around, which gives me a kick in the pants to keep carving. Sure, I am not making as much per sale as I might, but I am a MUCH better carver now than I was a year ago, and this is largely due to the demand I have facilitated with my price. Not having spoons around also keeps me from getting hoarding tendencies or from second-guessing the worth of what I do. I'm always focused on the next spoon. Low prices also force me to be more focused and efficient in design and execution. I am a better craftsman for this constraint.
Finally, I think it is doing a disservice to all the truly master carvers who are selling at a higher price (I'm looking at you, Jarrod and Robin and Jojo and Barn and Eamonn and Yoav and anyone else who wants to self-identify here). Most of us are journeyman carvers. We are in the middle part of the process, producing good work, sometimes just as good as those in this other category, but we are still unknown on the bigger stage. Our names are not opening doors. We are not masters yet, and our prices should reflect that. Something I think a lot of spooncarvers gloss over is the fact that both Robin and Jarrod have said that they spent YEARS selling cheap and in quantity and that this process honed their skills. You can't skip this step. You might think you can, but wishing doesn't make it so.
After some back and forth, here are the prices I have settled on. Eating spoons are $12. Cooking spoons and scoops are $15. Spreaders are $8. There is no difference between wholesale and retail prices. These are prices that I feel comfortable with, and that let me sleep well at night and explain what I do to acquaintances without embarrassment. While I earn the least, of all the things I do, carving, I earn more doing this per hour than I ever have farming. In addition, the skill I have developed has enabled me to start teaching, which pays much more per hour. For me, pricing is part of a strategy, and I am in it for the long game. I am using price to get better. I am using price to inform my choices. I am using price to acknowledge my place in this community, and I am using price to push back on something I love which I worry is becoming unaffordable.
I welcome your thoughts.
5/17/2017 06:18:58 am
Well written and well thought out. As someone who is selling $3.50 a bushel wheat, which once went for $6-$7, I agree with your understanding of commodity and pricing. Hours of work don't always mean more money. Do what you love and make what you can, but always be ethical. I am glad the business is working for you.
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My blog has evolved into a series of short essays on the nature of entrepreneurship, craftsmanship, and their overlap. If either of these topics is something you think about, you will probably like this.