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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