Friday, October 19, 2012

You're not charging enough!

After browsing Facebook pages and seeing statements like, "Bracelets starting at just $5," I lost it.  I posted a minor rant on my Facebook page letting people know that this type of underpricing damages the livelihoods of other artists and the craft.

I've been making jewelry full-time for over two years.  Making things is the only thing I want to do.  When I see people undercut their prices, I get a bit furious.  I tend to be a live and let live sort of person, except with things that affect other people.  Undercharging hurts everyone.

If you make chainmaille for fun and think that's a great way of getting extra money for rings to play with, I get that.  But as soon as you start charging sweatshop-made prices on your pieces, you are telling everyone that a) your time and handiwork is not valuable and b) the particular medium you're working is not valuable.

I see this with chainmaille ALL THE TIME.  Chainmaille is the red-headed step-child of the metals world in a lot of ways, and this type of underpricing just perpetuates the idea that chainmaille doesn't deserve the respect of traditional metalsmithing.

As someone who has poured hundreds of hours into making couture chainmaille clothing pieces, I can tell you that this is a load of garbage.  The two require a different type of monomania, but they are both labor-intensive and often tedious.  And not everyone can do it right.

For a time I had a wholesale rep and on three separate occasions she told me to raise my prices.  I'm thankful I did.  If I didn't charge the prices I charge I would be working 60+ hours a week just to have an income under the poverty level after all my business expenses.  Think about that.

If you think the race to the bottom is a good business model, let's look at the current Walmart controversy.  According to recent reports, Walmart employees comprise the largest recipient of food stamps.  So guess what?  You're subsidizing all that cheap crap with your tax dollars; even if you don't shop there, you're paying.

Now that I've gotten that rant off my chest, let me pass along some advice.  I offer up a simple formula for figuring out how much you should charge.  Mind you, there are lots of formulas, this should be seen as a starting point.

(Supplies * 2) + (Hourly wage * (minutes to make piece/60) = wholesale price

Firstly, you need to figure out your hourly wage.  This must be the hardest thing for artisans to do because I see so many pieces with only material costs in mind.  I will save the feminist rant mostly for now, but I see women crafters devaluing their work more often than I see men do it.  Women already only make 77 cents to every dollar a man makes.  Let's try to make things equitable in the craft world, okay?

When determining your hourly wage, keep a few things in mind.  You have to be mindful of how long it takes to make the piece, yes, but there are other incidental things that you also have to be mindful of.  From adding price tags to pieces, to ordering supplies--anything related to creating your piece is something that you should build into the price.  If you don't, all those unpaid minutes add up to A LOT OF UNPAID MONEY.  These are costs you're taking on.  Amateur crafters might not care.  Again, if you do, you're screwing over those whose ability to pay for food is dependent on consumers taking on these costs.  And believe me, you are paying for these costs and more with anything you purchase in a retail store.

You might ask,  "Why is the supply cost doubled?"  Well, this allows for fluctuations in the price of your components (especially for people working in silver or gold right now, yikes) and more importantly, it allows you to reinvest in your business.  If you only add the supply cost once, you've only covered the materials used in the piece.  What if you want to expand your business?  That little bit of extra money will help you make that investment to purchase more supplies.  It's also probably wise to add another 15% on top of this to make sure you've taken care of any incidental costs (like shipping costs of getting supplies from your suppliers).

And yes, all of this is only the wholesale price.  There are lots of artists who only charge wholesale prices in their Etsy and Artfire shops.  Pricing things at wholesale rates will only hurt you.  Say you make really cool things and are approached by a store.  This store will expect to purchase items at at least half of your retail prices.  Stores typically do a markup of 2.2-2.5 on their wholesale prices so that they can make money.  Divide your price by 2.2  Are you comfortable earning only that much on your work?

I see wholesale prices on work at art fairs and that makes no sense considering the overhead.  I charge full retail at shows.  Say I sell $4,000 of jewelry at a show.  Sounds nice, right?  Well, at $2,000 I've covered the cost of making all of the jewelry that sold--time and materials.  From the remaining $2,000 I have to deduct expenses such as booth fee (typically $300-$700), hotel fees ($200-$500), food costs, and my time for setting up the booth and standing around all weekend (at least 20 hours of work to upwards of 40).  In terms of pure profit, I'm only seeing a couple hundred dollars.  And most of that money goes to additional supplies anyway.

I'm running out of steam, so I'll leave you with this final thought.  Lots of artists are scared to charge more because they think that people won't spend the higher price.  I sell more now than I ever did at my cheap prices.  Why?  I've found the people who value handcrafted jewelry.  I don't compete with Lia Sophia or any other mass produced jewelry.  That's not who I am and not what I want to do.

Rant over.  Thanks for reading.

Vanessa Walilko
Handcrafted jewelry
Aluminum chainmaille jewelry