Saturday, January 3, 2009

Pricing Your Work

77. Pricing Your Work

At some point in your evolution as a ceramic artist you are going to think of selling something you’ve made. Perhaps your Ceramics Department holds a Christmas Sale, or maybe someone has simply fallen in love with one of your pieces and offers to buy it. The subject of price will come up. At first it’s not really much of a business calculation. You’re a student, after all, and business doesn’t really have much to do with it. Maybe you really need some money. Maybe just the idea of selling your art is the reward. Whatever your reasons, your initial prices are bound to be fairly low. That’s fine, but eventually you’re going to have to really study the issues surrounding price. I’d like to skim through a few ideas for you now.
First, price really doesn’t bear much relationship to cost. If you work inefficiently, use unnecessarily expensive materials, and have a high breakage rate, that doesn’t mean you can price your coffee cups the same as other people’s teapots. It means you need to correct those problems and bring your costs down. People are buying pots, not sob stories.
Second, people need to understand your prices. For instance, “Why does this mug cost more than that pitcher?” You may see more value in the mug than in the pitcher but why? Is the mug extra fabulous? Maybe it should be set aside to enter in shows or sell through a gallery. Does the pitcher have some sort of non-fatal flaw? Maybe you should label it, “As is,” or “Second.”
Third, it’s better to sell a lot of pots slightly under-priced than only a couple overpriced. There’s a truism from Japanese baseball, “It’s better to hit four singles than a home run and three outs.”
Fourth, customer demand counts for a lot. If you sell out at a Fair or Gallery Show, your prices were too low. Period. If you sell little or nothing, either your prices were too high, or you showed your work poorly, or you showed it to the wrong audience. Study your audiences carefully. Switch venues.
Fifth, if you price things too low people get suspicious. They look for hidden flaws and, failing to find them, they veer off. Would you buy a two dollar a quart brand of vodka?
Sixth, price by type and size, and perhaps, decorative intensity. People understand that large costs more than small, intricate more than simple. Find a benchmark piece and price, then work up or down from there.
Seventh, time costs. How much is it worth to you to stay up half the night individually pricing each pot? Why not have a standard cup price and a few legible signs that can be read from a distance? Also, whether or not you price to the nearest five dollars, in whole dollar amounts, or with the classic “…and ninety-five cents” ploy, how much time are you going to spend processing each purchase? That third or fourth customer in line might just change their mind, set the pot down, and leave. Sometimes the situation calls for a leisurely approach, but be prepared to rush gracefully, too.
Eighth, who is your competition? If the other potters have prices similar to yours you’ll probably be okay. Again, it’s more about not confusing the customers than anything else. On the other hand, experience may have helped them choose their “price points,” and you might as well gain what you can from their experience.
Ninth, be realistic about your inventory. I don’t really think of myself as being in direct competition with other potters. My mugs, etc., are unique and draw buyers without regard to the work (or prices) of nearby potters. Still, a better potter deserves to get better prices for their work. If that better potter is also under-pricing you, you’re in trouble. Lower your prices, or sell to different audiences, or learn to be happy with your current level of sales.
Tenth, don’t get desperate. Customers are easily frightened and have been trained in our culture to have purely emotionless buying experiences. They can detect that you are desperate for the money to make the rent, or get your vehicle repaired, or whatever. The scent of doom around you will drive many people away before they’ve even had a chance to really look at your work. Be cheerful, friendly, and light-hearted. Fake it if you must. Likewise, never give the impression that you don’t want to be bothered. Polite people will leave you alone.
Eleventh, presentation matters a lot. Do what you can to look like a valuable person who makes valuable objects. I once observed a gallery clerk in Santa Fe benignly selling a very expensive rug to a German couple. They had questions for which he had few answers, but he looked expensive himself. He fit the part of a person selling expensive art objects. His looks made the rug seem worth the asking price.
I’m sure there’s more, but the point is, price is not simple. Selling at all is not simple. Selling something that you’ve worked hard to make can be horrendous. Start observing the process before you’re in the thick of it yourself. And stay cheerful. After all, the day of the sale is your payday. Do everything you can to make it a good one.


French Fancy said...

It must be very hard to price one's work. If I was as talented as someone like you I'd not be able to let anything go. I'd end up poor and surrounded by too many things.

Larry M. Brow said...

I'm actually finding it easier to let things go. Perhaps it's just experience. Some of it is ego. If a pot is good it can go out into the world and do heroic service for someone. And I know that the owners think well of me when they use the pots. My early pots... people were very generous to have spent money on them.