Saturday, November 10, 2012

A Discussion on Pottery Pricing. Part 1 (maybe)

 I got an email from a friend and I think it would make for an interesting blog post.  It's certainly prompted me to get windy again.  That's not always a good thing, but as long as I've written some of my thoughts down, I thought some people might find them as a useful springboard to further discussion and/or thought. 

Here's the email.  My response is what follows.

Hi John,

So you have this 16 inch diameter bowl on Etsy for 92.00. It's beautiful. If it sells, Etsy will get about 6.00 and shipping will cost you about 20.00. Are you just trying to get rid of it, and are willing to take a loss? Would you have been able to sell this bowl for more 5 years ago? Can you make it for 60 something dollars? Just wondering. I think it's an absolutely gorgeous bowl.


 I would never claim to be correct in my marketing strategy, but I could write volumes on it.  I figured out somewhere along the line that MOST potters I knew (exclude those for whom the labor is so intensive as to re-categorize them) were going about their marketing sort of backwards.  Backwards, and with one HUGE economic misconception.

The HUGE economic misconception is that a pot's value is simply what one can sell it for.  In the world of ebay, that may be true.  And in any individual pot's case, it also may be true. 

But most potters operate on the idea of generalized duplication.  Most potters -- even the ones who are more art and less production in nature -- recreate the "same" pieces over and over.  As a matter of business and marketing and pricing structure, the price of such a "piece" isn't what a potter can sell one for.  No, it is what a potter can regularly/always sell one for. 

And to dig a little deeper into the complexities of the situation.....

Pots serve many different functions (I mean from a marketing point of view.  Not "function" as in "functional pottery").  And not all pots are equally cost effective to make, no matter how analytical we might be about clocking the hours spent per piece, the cost of clay, the cost of firing, etc.

Some pots are meant to attract an audience to buy our other work.  This sort of "show" or "exhibition" piece may function as an eye-catcher to draw people into our marketplace to entice them to look at the rest of our work.  As such, these show pieces will necessarily be marked to reflect their function -- not as income staples, but as a sort of cost of advertising (in this case, the "cost" goes in the labor column).  We generally price these higher, such that if we do sell them (not our first intention -- though not our last, either.  It's a pretty arbitrary thing), that sale will make it worth our while.

That's just one of the exceptions to a standard pricing structure.

A second exception might be a loss-leader.  If we find ourselves in a market that requires busy-ness in order to sell well -- as art fairs do -- we may consider a loss-leader an effective tool.  The buyers at art fairs don't go from booth to booth.  They go from crowd to crowd.  It's human nature to allow the crowd to pick our winners for us.  Just look at the obsession with the polls this past election.  Whether true, false, accurate, or un, the pundits were shouting opinions about them at the top of their lungs because they know that success begets success.  And if one can put forth the image of a winner, one is halfway toward being a winner.


That is also true -- maybe even MORE true -- of the internet marketing situation wherein success breeds success because that's precisely how search engines that will bring new customers to your site work.  They are exactly like an art fair attendee.  They go from "crowd to crowd" looking, not for items, but for items that everyone else has already found appealing.

That's a long way of saying that often, if their studio situation allows for it, or their creativity has figured out a way to make it happen, a potter will offer some item more or less at cost because the attraction to business of any kind quite often translates to an attraction to business of every kind.

I could go on and on about that as well.  But suffice it to say, many of us potters just need an introduction to the audience.  Many of us are convinced that "our story" will win those customers for life if we can but get the introductory foot in the door.  That's the charm of the handmade -- we are selling a story.  And that story is of a lifestyle that human nature finds almost irresistible.  Compelling.

Discussions of the exceptions now established, the question still remains, "so what about the non-exceptional pricing structure?"


I've gone on and on for a very long time here.  If there's any interest in my continuing this dialogue toward discussing "non-exceptional" pricing structure, let me know and I will continue on this blog.

jb

11 comments:

  1. Hi John. Good to see you in Dillsboro. Hope you did well.I couldn't agree more about pricing being the amount you can regularly sell for.The next step involves accurately looking at costs (including labor)and seeing if you can profitably produce the item for that selling price. Like Barb, I would like to hear more.

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  2. Great summation, John. Been wonderin' where you've been lately out here in the aether. Good to have you back, and may the wing blow long and clear!

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  3. I'll get on with it. Casseroles first!

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  4. I am very interested in hearing more of your thoughts on pricing John. I am also curious if you do any wholesaling and how you work out your prices for those pots. For instance you have a $68 pumpkin teapot on Etsy. Would you seriously sell that pot at wholesale for $34?? I get the feeling you are making enough $$ from shows and Etsy that you don't have to bother with wholesale, but that could just be my misconception. Thanks! Ron

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  5. For one who is getting ready for my first "real" show - hopefully solo - I would appreciate hearing more as well...

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