Sharing your work with people looking for hand work
Finding customers that support craftwork like mine is essentially your primary work once you’ve made your pieces and established a portfolio. Your customers are not someone you barter with as such, or haggle over the price of your work, but someone who respects what you’ve made. Every day people come into the workshop and ask for a price of something. This is the point where educating my customers begins. The barriers are down and we have common ground to talk about my work. It’s not a point where we become a negotiating entity to find out the real price I’m willing to go down to. This is a different world where someone walks and wants to buy for an honest investment in something they just cannot buy almost anywhere. Attitude here is everything.
I generally encourage woodworkers going into self employed business to ignore their bankers, to not borrow money for startup (esp from family) and to not listen to naysayers who say you can’t make your living from being a woodworker because of course there are indeed many more that fail at it than are successful. Usually the ones that say you can’t make it couldn’t, wouldn’t or shouldn’t do it themselves and are not usually the best ones to take advice from, but of course you could listen to them out of courtesy.
Talking to Sam today I recounted my experiences over the decades of dealing with certain customer types that can, if you let them, make life difficult. I thought it might help you too.
You must of course make some decisions when you start your business. Are you going to retail yourself, which means dealing directly with the individual customer, or are you going to wholesale? Its simple enough and you might do both of course. Dealing wholesale means selling at half the retail price usually. That means your days can be spent making instead of being in the retail store selling for larger chunks of the day. Let’s deal with direct customers as retail buyers.
There you are busy as a bee and a man drives up dressed for holiday (vacation US) or the golf course and sees your beautiful work. “Wow, stunning work!” he declares and wanders around touching the pieces. You talk back and forth and before you know he is entertained and you lost an hour of productive work time. He’s semi retired and you need to be making. Suddenly he dips into his hip pocket and pulls out his wallet. It’s at this point when you may have sold something for £20 or £2,000. He says, “How much for cash?” This is him telling you to do or don’t do one or any of the following: 1) Pocket the cash and don’t put it through your books. 2) Don’t charge VAT (or any tax). 3) Give him a discount just because he’s paying cash. 4) Conspire with him to be equally dishonest. This man has no sense of who you are. He wants a deal and does not want to pay you what you are worth, but it’s part of their world and they want to feel they have bettered you and bettered themselves by owning a part of you. Some might say that’s a bit harsh, but I have always been hard working to the detriment of my own wellbeing for the benefit of my customers.
I look at these scenarios and of course you, you yourself, don’t have to be dishonest at all. Of course it does tell you something of his character. I wouldn’t allow anyone to manipulate me or work dishonestly so I think any crafting artisan should decide that from the beginning and not sell him or herself short.
It’s on another occasion someone in the studio selected several pieces of furniture, walked over to the counter and asked how much if she buys the six chosen pieces. Now that’s different than asking how much it is for the six pieces. Again we see a certain expectancy. The question arises again, does that really warrant entering the arena of discount pricing as if you had the same parameters of a more common furniture store? The reality is that you didn’t buy what you’re selling from some other entity but you made every part with your own hands and worked each piece to correspond perfectly with its partnered piece. The piece you made holds your concept of design within its constructs. The design itself has a value only you can determine. Though of course it has something to do with hours taken to make it, complexness, things like that. But the design might be worth all the more because its so very simple. These issues surround the value of what you and your work is worth, so it’s as much to do with your involvement that others must see rather than some design bought by another party. I wouldn’t price my work based on an hourly rate plus materials. That’s a poor way of working out your worth my friends. And even when the design is not yours but a replication of another period piece, your very involvement makes it worth not discounting for someone trying to be advantaged from their skewed perspective. Even if they walked into most stores they most likely wouldn’t ask for a discount anyway. Often they feel that they have some kind of right to dangle the money carrot. Now this type has no way of understanding respect either. I know, they are entitled to try, but we are not talking about tyre discounts here but a man or a woman toiling with their own skilled hands, shaping and moulding and making every bit of what stands in front of them with integrity. So, what do you do? You consider them and then you consider your financial needs. If what you made sells well as a rule and you have confidence what you have will sell then the decision is indeed yours. If the kids need new shoes and it’s grocery time then you may need to make the sale. I recall one time in my early days in Texas paying $350 for my show fee, filling the van with gas and arriving at the show venue with enough money for the first night’s hotel room only. Tougher days with tougher decisions.
You must of course do what you must in times when a sale can make the difference, but working with your customers is not working other people’s customers because most of what is bought today would not be made by someone standing in front of you or someone from the same town, the same country or even the same continent. These things have additional value and are things you must consider and work through. They are important in establishing a protocol for you to live with as you grow, but they are more important in evaluating self worth that defies discounting your worth in a world where craftsmanship and a local crafting artisan hangs on by a very long and thin thread.
We can talk more about pricing your work for a real world soon.