Undervalued & Underpriced Crafts

I don’t know if it’s just a female thing or something every crafter and artist goes through – that whole self-doubt as to what our work is truly worth. The unfortunate part of underpricing is that while maybe done inadvertantly causes harm to the entire industry.

Maybe it’s because craft shows and fairs so resemble a flea market – tables, stuff lined up on them, booth after booth; that somehow leads customers to believe they are at a swap meet rather than an art show. Perhaps, by calling them craft fairs rather than art shows, we’ve done this to ourselves.On that huge place on the net where crafters hang out, Craftster, there’s been a heated discussion on undervaluing crafts. The original poster somewhat blamed those folks who are either too embarrassed to demand what they are worth or are “only selling to get supply money to support their hobby”.

In some ways I can understand folks not asking enough. If the supplies to make something cost 50 cents, I could see where someone would find it difficult to ask even $30 for the item. But, if you factor in that it took 7 hours to take that 50 cents worth of supplies and make something worthwhile out of them, suddenly $35 doesn’t seem all that much – less than $5 per hour of labor. Gee, even McDonald’s pays more than that.

The Competition – or is it?

Why is it that crafters allow non-crafters, ie. customers, to downgrade prices to the point of slave wages? Well, there is that whole foreign-made thing.

In a gift shop I was in recently, they had this gorgeous thread crochet tablecloth that was adorned with flowers, leaves and patternwork that was quite intricate and obviously must have taken many weeks to make. The price? $100! The shop owner saw me looking at it and wandered over as the way I was studying the piece must have given away the fact that I knew exactly what I was looking at. While undoubtably the most expensive thing in his store, he also knew I knew it was the most undervalued item in the store. “That came from China” he whispered to me. “Exquisite, isn’t it?” I looked at him with a sad face and he immediately said “I know, no American could make it for that.” Shoot, I don’t think I could have gotten the thread for $100.

There really isn’t much crafters can do to directly compete against foreign workers for whom that $100 might represent a year’s pay.

Then there’s the whole giant retail store issue. ‘Why would someone buy my handmade tote for $45 when they can buy one for $5 there?’

OK, let’s start a few lessons here by combining marketing 101 and knowing your own value.

1. You will never be able to compete on price alone. If you did that, crafters would soon not even be able to recoup their supplies.

2. There will always be mass-produced cheaper products – some of a high quality like that table cloth and some like those $5 tote bags.

3. You are not a slave. Harsh, yes; but did I get your attention?

4. Your hand-crafted item is unique, special, and worthy. (OK, that assumes you have at least a bit of skill and are not making something that looks like a 3 year-old made it.)

5. If you underprice your items you impact everyone else selling arts and crafts, not just those selling a similar item.

Now let’s put some perspective on pricing here. I go to the big chain department store and buy a nice t-shirt; I maybe pay $15 for it. A lady, who lives in another part of town, goes to a boutique and buys a similar shirt designed by some fancy smancy designer for $450. If you take all the labels off of my shirt and all the labels off of the more expensive shirt, most would be hard pressed to know which is which.

The designer can sell their shirt for so much more because…

1. They have a big name. That may be true, but that’s far from the whole story.

2. They don’t mass produce their items.

3. They have stricter quality control than the company that made the cheaper shirt.

4. Maybe they used a more complicated french seam instead of a serger.

5. They have a unique product and offer it in a limited number of outlets.

Hmm, starting to sound like anything ever made by a crafter? Let’s have another example.

Department store – framed, decorative mirror $60
Boutique – framed, decorative mirror made by a local artist, one of a kind $600

Let’s compare the similarities…

1. They both work well at reflecting.

2. They both accent the room and add visual depth to it.

3. They both have a particular type of customer. (This is the important one!)

Now, let’s compare the differences…

1. When company sees Mirror 1, they say “Oh I saw that in xxxx-Mart too, it looks nice there.”

2. When company sees Mirror 2, they say “Wow, I love that mirror! I’ve never seen anything else like it.”

It’s the wow factor that gets someone to pay ten times more for mirror 2!

Focus on Your True Customer and Wow Them

Going back to the types of customers. The buyer of Mirror 1 is either someone on a budget or someone who just wants a working mirror. The buyer of Mirror 2 is someone who wants something unique and different that no one else has – the wow factor.

Just like that trendy, t-shirt buyer; the buyer of Mirror 2 is who crafters should be targeting their wares to. If your items don’t have that wow – you need to go back to the design board. It’s that wow factor, that unique something that’s going to get folks to pay for handmade items at their true value.

I’ve seen crafters selling crochet dolls for $400-500 that have a truly unique look and are more art than craft. I’ve also seen crafters selling crochet dolls that took many hours to make for $10. While not everyone’s work will rise to the standard of $500, it surely is worth more than $10?

Big truth here . . . not everyone can afford to pay for what your art is truly worth. Sure, I would love to have an original Georgia O’Keefe in my living room; but, I can’t afford one. That certainly doesn’t mean that people selling her paintings should have to sell at a price I can afford.

So, the next time you start pricing your items for sale, consider what makes it a “WOW!”. So what if the nearby department store is selling them for 10% of what you are asking – if the customer wanted one of those, they would be in that store instead of standing in front of your table or looking at your website. Remind yourself how long it took you to design and make that item. We pay the crazy, rediculous prices we do for medicine; not because of the actual ingredients, but because of all the research that went into formulating it. Why is your design any different? Yes, the sheer cost is not the same; but the principle certainly is.

Don’t Haggle – You Always Lose

So, if someone comes up to you and says, “I really like that piece, but I couldn’t pay more than ____” and they quote a price that is significantly less than the price you have on that item; politely tell them that prices are not up for negotiation. Be polite, be firm, and most importantly stand your ground. Obviously, that person wants the wow but thinks they should be able to get it at fire sale prices – remind yourself, this person just insulted both my integrity and my craftsmanship. As someone said on the Craftster board, I’d rather give the piece to my neighbor’s dog to chew than allow someone who doesn’t “appeciate the uniqueness and hand-crafting” of my work have it.

Sure, offer a volume discount if you are so inclined; but NEVER allow someone to insult your work and them reward them for it.

Supplies Only

And, for the love of Pete; stop selling your crafts “Just to get supplies to make more” – what are you, some sort of charity for strangers or do you just hate other crafters? You drag down the whole industry when you do that. If you are against making money then put a more fair price on the item and give the profit you disdain to charity or make stuff and give the finished item to a charity. There are tons of charities that ask for hand-made stuff, many even provide the supplies – so, please stop driving down pricing by not charging anything other than your supplies.

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10 Responses to Undervalued & Underpriced Crafts

An excellent post.

Unfortunately people have become used to underpriced items in general leading to the loss of motivation of the hard-working craft business. It is similar to the eBay problem where people expect to ‘get a bargain’ which, loosely translated to the crafter, means ‘get an item for less than the cost of the materials’.

Comment by Billy Blogger on

Great food for thought. Thank you!

Comment by Mendy on

I have always found it an interesting concept that folks are willing to pay hundreds of dollars for a garment that has a particular name brand on it, yet those same folks are often unwilling to pay comparable prices for a garment made by a true artisan. The name brand may have cache – but, in truth it is mass marketed and could never be as unique or special as something truly made by hand.

I am glad you both enjoyed my article and I hope you visit again.

Comment by Michele of Blog About Crafts on

I have been crafting for years and feel the same way you do! My biggest problem is making people understand the work involved, they claim they can go to a 99cent store and buy a nice hand painted item so why pay my prices. It’s just so frustraiting cause I do quality unique work.
I would like to sell on line but not sure how. Any good suggestions?
Thank you

Comment by Nilka on

Hi Nilka,

The dollar only stores have become something of a double-edged sword for crafters. While they can often provide unique craft supplies (food covers turned into pet beds), discounted yarn (Lion Brand is often in ours), and even the children’s toys; it also has many lovely things that folks are puchasing instead of hand-made items.

The worst thing I’ve seen is a few crafters who are purchasing these dollar items and passing them off as their own. I’ve seen painted glass, hair bobs, and a few other things at craft fairs. I can understand the crafter using them as table fillers, but not when they boldly insisted everything on the table was made by them. No different than the folks passing off Fire Mountain, Oriental Trading and other catalog pieces as their own.

As to getting started selling on the Internet…check my blog entry from June 21, 2007.

Hope it helps.

Comment by Michele of Blog About Crafts on

I was reffered to this blog by a fellow crafster. Pricing has really been a struggle for me in the past, as I have always been a thrift/vintage shopper. It is just recently that I have realized what my work is really worth, and that my customers will pay for it.
I do have a question for fellow artists. Pretty much everything I make is one of a kind, and I was wondering how much that should appreciate the value of something. I know this is something I should be taking into consideration for my pricing strategy

Comment by Lauren on

One of a kind and uniqueness can drive up pricing. The problem, as I see it, is that hand made and one of a kind have been used interchangeably – diluting the value of something that truly is unique.

When I see that something that a crafter is selling as ‘one of a kind’ and their online or booth inventory would appear to be a back up that statement; I am more inclined to see that item as something special.

Keep in mind, there’s one of a kind as in “these beads were from an antique necklace and there are no more” and “I designed this piece myself and will not be making any more”. Both have added value, but the second should be priced higher. Unless the component is something like ivory that has become difficult to obtain, the value comes from the uniqueness of the finished piece over the uniqueness of the individual components.

By their nature, arts and crafts are quite a challenge to price as there is really no such thing as a standard rate, like there is for other physical goods. For example; a particular skein of yarn, string of pearls, or a ream of paper all have a fairly consistent retail price. But if we take those items and create a one of a kind necklace with pearls, handmade paper beads, and crochet beads – now you have something that has no standard price – which is why this whole pricing thing is so darn hard in the first place.

I’m not sure if I exactly answered your question, but generally speaking true rarity should always factor into your pricing decisions and can elevate a craft to true art.

Comment by Michele of Blog About Crafts on

Whether you are selling crafts, fine art or professional services; prices should be determined by the WOW. As soon as you try to sell based solely on the prices of the individual components or the time required to complete the project, you sink into the morass of cheap imports, knock-offs, and mass-produced sameness. And perhaps worst of all, you drive down prices in the marketplace which hurts everyone trying to sell their products or services.

Comment by bloggingzoom.com on

My formula for pricing is materials times 3 = price, add more for time involved, decrease if competition is selling for much lower price. What the market will bear is the old adage. The reason is that you will not make a profit unless you price at least at this level as your other expenses will eat up your profit, such as booth rent, advertising, tables, boards, gas, equipment, insurance, hired help, etc.

I am trying to find craft stores that will let you sell by consignment without paying a booth fee. Any ideas?

Comment by Kathleen E. Hutchins on

Hi Kathleen, thank you for the input. Tripling the cost does work for many crafts but there are quite a few, like crochet, that the real cost is tied up in the labor. Several of the smaller items I make can take days but the cost of the supplies is negligible even if I’m using an expensive yarn. Unfortunately, what the market will bear is such a moving target. Sadly, there’s no right answer for everyone. How much easier it would be for everyone if there was. I’ve met some crafters who make different things for different shows and venues and others who use different prices for the same item depending upon the show they are attending – seems like a strategy requiring a lot of bookkeeping and luck that the customer who bought last week at the higher price doesn’t find you selling the same item at the lower price.

Your comment about expenses is one worth repeating. Too many crafters don’t consider those expenses when deciding on how to price their items.

Have you looked into selling at a craft-coop sort of store? They often have a tiered commission structure based upon how much time you spend manning the store and don’t charge for floor space. Depending upon what you make, you might want to approach a non-consignment retail store and see if they would agree to sell your items on a consignment basis. For example, if you make baby blankets, try a children’s clothing store. Or if you make jewelry, approach a clothing store about offering your line to their customers. Make the pitch that you are providing them with a product their competition won’t have.

Good luck with your business and thanks for stopping by and participating on my blog about crafts.

Comment by Michele on

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